Archives for posts with tag: public comments
Friend–


Here are a couple of recent posts from my daily blog that I thought might interest you.

  1. I used to be in an “entourage.” It wasn’t a star’s coterie, but a charismatic business person leading a startup. The time has stuck with me over many years. Very strange. More here: In The Entourage

  2. I work on the periphery of the world of philanthropy. I notice that, with the tough times, the trend of risk aversion from philanthropies has increased exponentially. But who else can take risks in the independent sector, if not endowed organizations? More here: Philanthropy’s Unique Advantage

If you are interested, consider joining the email list for my daily blog. This would mean that you get a note each time I publish — about once per day, certainly no more. If you would like that, just reply and let me know.

(My plan is to send you a recap like this each Friday at 11 am. This is a test to see how it goes. I may change that schedule.)

Friends–

Since many of you who read my occasional commentary are, in fact, friends, I wanted to just let you know of two things that are new in my world.

My Band’s New CD Is Complete And Available For Purchase

As you probably know, I am in a rock band called The West End. We have been working very hard all summer and fall to complete a CD filled with new, original material and now it’s done. We couldn’t be happier with how it sounds. We released it at a very successful show just last Saturday.

The CD is called This Ride Could Be My Last and it is being sold here.

It’s already gotten radio airplay and one review has called it “foot stomping, not tapping.”

As you might imagine, I encourage you to buy one! Just click the link and order it from CD Baby, the largest seller of independent music on the Web. At the link, you can hear snippets of every tune.

If you feel so moved, I would be thankful if you would review it at the CD Baby site (you need to register but it is easy.) Listener reviews are one of the chief ways that other people decide whether or not to buy a CD.

This is just in time for the holiday season, and they make great stocking stuffers!

I Have A New Daily Blog

I have been writing and publishing occasional commentary pieces since 2003, typically when the spirit moves me. There isn’t a set schedule and I try to make them into “essays” as opposed to “blog posts.” (Here’s an index.)

I wanted to let you know I have also set up a new, daily (or thereabouts) blog called Brad Rourke’s Blog. My plan is to write briefly on some topic about once per weekday.

If you are interested, I encourage you to take a peek.

I also encourage you to sign up for an email subscription. This would mean that you get a note each time I publish — about once per day, certainly no more. If you would like that, just reply and let me know, or enter your email address in the box at the upper right of my blog.

I promise not to distribute or share your email address in any way ever.

Thanks so much for your ongoing support.

Many of my friends and readers of my national commentary know that I am also the founder of a web site called Rockville Central, which is an example of what the Knight Citizen News Network would call “hyperlocal journalism.” Rockville Central is a citizen-produced, all-volunteer local blog that is intentionally designed to embody the kinds of participatory-democratic civic ideas that many of my readers share with me.

I am happy (and proud) to report that the National Civic Review, a well-respected journal on public issues published by the National Civic League, has an article about Rockville Central in the latest (Fall 2008) issue. While copyright restrictions forbid me from making the original available freely, if you simply email me (by responding to this note) I can send you the final draft version without restriction.

In any case, I thought you might be interested to read an excerpt from the conclusion:

I set out with Rockville Central to engage in a kind of civic experiment. I wanted to see what would happen when an online space popped up that had a very particular set of sensibilities. In essence, I wanted to try to embody many of the approaches and ideas espoused by the civic sector.

I learned that, with just a small amount of care, such an enterprise can be successful in a small way. I doubt the ability of something like this to be commercially viable on a large scale. Indeed, insofar as Rockville Central has provided a new space for people, it needs to remain on a human scale; growing too big would kill it.

However, I can honestly say that I hope for the model to proliferate. I’ve pursued Rockville Central specifically with the idea in mind that others could replicate it. Whenever there was a free way to do something, as opposed to an expensive way, I chose the free way.

While it is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea to be a civic blogger, literally anyone could create something like Rockville Central. There are no special skills required and no training. It does not require access to capital or to fancy foundations.

So, for those who may have had their interest piqued by the story of Rockville Central, I offer this handful of lessons learned. They are things to keep in mind, if you choose to move forward.

  • Impact and Scale are very different things. Based on grateful emails I get, the fact that almost the entire senior staff and governing officials of the City reads it, and from anecdotal stories of ordinary people choosing to take actions they would not otherwise take because of something they read in the blog, I am certain Rockville Central is having an impact. However, its “scale” is relatively small and I have no plans for it to grow simply for growth’s sake. Scale does not interest me. Impact does. 
  • Try little things, if you fail so what? The history of Rockville Central is littered with ideas that did not pan out. Our year of existence (so far) has been marked by quick attempts to try new things, followed by equally quick admissions of failure where they occurred. . . . There was the time I thought I would adopt an informal approach to a series of video interviews with City Council members. It was 100 days into the term and I wanted to follow up on campaign promises. My first interview featured me in a ripped pair of jeans. It caused such an uproar that I publicly apologized. People demanded a bit more decorum of me. Lesson learned! This was not the first, nor the only, time I have publicly apologized for a mistake on the blog. After each of these episodes, messages came in praising the change in course. People appreciate experimentation, and understand that mistakes may be made — and they appreciate forthrightness about it.
  • You don’t need an organization to have an institution. Rockville Central is literally two people who just spend time volunteering. There is nothing official about it, no phone number to call, no office to visit. Its only real expense is its domain name — about $6 per year. Yet, it is enough of an institution that some members of the Mayor and City Council have chosen to release statements through it. In City Council meetings, office holders as well as citizens have spoken about something they have read in Rockville Central. While it is unorganized, it is still a community institution.
  • People want fun — it draws them in and gives them a reason to return. Rockville Central’s most popular pages are shopping and restaurant reviews. This troubles me not at all. It’s important for us civic junkies to remember that we are oddballs: most people are just trying to live their lives, not “be better citizens” or “become more engaged.” I firmly believe that one of the most important aspects of Rockville Central is that it is not a drag. For instance, every weekday morning’s “Photo Of The Day” is sometimes dramatic, other times silly. I am very idiosyncratic about my choices with it. More than one reader has told me that it is the POTD’s that keep them coming back.
  • People need reminding about the rules of the road. Every few months, someone begins posting anonymous, vitriolic comments. I typically delete them and post an article about what I have done. I welcome such episodes, because each one is a chance to reinforce the norms that Rockville Central is trying to promote.
  • “Politics As Usual” will try to use anything it can. Prepare for candidates and community organizations to seek to use the blog as a way to gain advantage. . . . [S]ome office holders have begun to try to feed tips and ideas in order to generate articles that will further their objectives. None of this is really a problem — it is how politics unfolds in most places. However, a blog like Rockville Central is trying to stay aloof from such things while still being relevant. It is a fine line to walk and it takes a willingness to resist f
    la
    ttery, threat, and cajoling. 
  • You must earn trust. Shortly after I sent an initial email to all candidates for City Council, asking for an interview, I got a call from one. She was very skeptical of my motives. I explained I was just trying to be helpful. She didn’t buy it, and said she did not believe someone would put the time in that it takes to do this work for simply an altruistic motive (I am paraphrasing). She agreed to the interview reluctantly. Over time, through being dedicated about being transparent and fair, this person has come to trust Rockville Central and is one of its best friends. Her initial reaction, though, was completely correct. There is no reason anyone ought to trust my neutrality simply because I claimed it — I had to demonstrate it over time.

Come visit Rockville Central! And — more important — if you feel so moved, start something like it yourself in your own community. I would love to hear about it.

I had know about it for some time, but I was first confronted with The Syndrome in 2004. I had penned a column — which in most respects was carefully balanced — that included critical statements of Democratic candidate John Kerry and praised President Bush on some point. The piece did not include any contact information and it was not a publication that included a space for reader comments. The morning it appeared, I received an email from someone I did not know. “You disgust me,” it began, and went on to describe what an idiot I was. I can’t go into greater detail because I did not save the note. Suffice to say, the writer, who had gone to some trouble to find my email address, was incensed that I had anything positive to say about president Bush whatsoever. Indeed, the reader’s ire was driven more by that, than by any criticism I might have leveled at Kerry.

Conservative commentators have for some years now observed a general “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” in which the mere mention of President Bush’s name generates such irrational vitriol that it’s almost funny (until you get to be its target). More recently, we’ve seen a bit of “Palin Derangement Syndrome” and even a smattering of “McCain Derangement Syndrome.” Ordinarily rational friends and acquaintances will simply lose it at the mention of one of these odious figures, and say the most amazing things.

However, these derangement syndromes are not at all the sole province of liberals and Democrats. My conservative friends are just as prone to bouts of insanity. In one generally conservative outlet in which I occasionally run columns, I have observed that if I merely mention Sen. Obama’s name, I am guaranteed to see comments that just go right off the deep end. And, if I want readers to tell me I’m an idiot and to question my motives and patriotism, I need only praise Obama in some slight way — or, just as bad, fail to criticize him sufficiently.

These episodes point to a broad, troubling trend in American politics. We are losing, ever more with each election, the ability to differentiate an opponent from an enemy. The stakes seem to be ratcheted up ever higher and the “grassroots” seem to go from being an electorate to a mob.

I place the lion’s share of the blame for this on the political professional class. These are the people who make their living at manipulating public opinion — political consultants, “party strategists,” and a number of media personalities who trade in invective, ridicule, and fear. Both sides of the aisle are just filthy with them. These folks are good at what they do. They move people — spur them to give, spur them to rallies, spur them to vote. They do it by villifying the other side until they go from “opponent” to “enemy.”

What’s the difference? An opponent is someone I hope to beat — but the integrity of the game is ultimately more important than the outcome. One of us will win and, we will each go our ways.

An enemy, though, is someone who must be vanquished. Facing an “enemy,” it’s kill or be killed.

As this year’s campaign has drawn on, positions have hardened and now most citizens feel it is “very important” that their candidate win. The share of citizens who say this has increased tremendously over just six months ago.

Just about half of the nation will wind up disappointed. What will they do? Will they be able to carry on honorably? Or will they stick “not my president” decals on their bumpers and do a slow burn?

Looking at the aftermath of the last three or four presidential elections, it’s a fair bet that we’ll see the latter. What will it take for us to take the outcome just a little less seriously, so that we can take democracy itself a little more seriously?

This article by me first appeared in Pajamas Media.

If you are reading this, you are not the target of Senator Obama’s 30-minute media buy. Which surely means, since I am writing, that neither am I the target. Good thing, too — I was disappointed.

Oh, sure, my eyes teared up at the right moments, and I enjoyed the homespun blues guitar. As commercials go, it was fine. And as infomercials go, it was a knockout. What I am disappointed by, on behalf of the civic life of America, is the squandered opportunity.

Set aside, for the moment, whom you prefer to vote for (or have already voted for) in the upcoming “historic presidential election.” The fact remains that one candidate is so dominating the current electoral scene that he is able to insert a 30-minute unfiltered message into almost all of prime time. He is a candidate who looks and talks differently than most other political figures cluttering the landscape. His charisma is undeniable, recalling orators of yore. He’s smart.

At his best, this candidate preaches (and it is preaching) a kind of politics that rests on a partnership between the leaders and the led, where citizens aren’t customers of government but are citizens, who hold responsibilities as well as rights. This at times seems a revolutionary idea, coming as it does at a time when politics itself seems exhausted, the rhetoric ground down by the accretion of promise after promise.

Americans know that they themselves can do better, that they can be better citizens. I hear it as I talk to people throughout the nation. Most would grade themselves a “B” in terms of citizenship, if that. They’re waiting for an invitation to step up, and many observers see Obama’s candidacy as just such an opportunity.

But he played it safe, sticking to the well-worn talking points and really, it seems, just hoping to make his points through repetition. I guess it is hard to fault someone in Sen. Obama’s position for steering a course that minimizes mistakes. After all, he’s trying to close the deal, and that’s a job not yet done.

But imagine if Sen. Obama’s campaign had instead seen these thirty minutes as an opportunity — not for his own campaign, but for the American people. He might have taken a different tack.

He might have gathered ten Americans from different walks of life — including, especially, people with whom he disagrees — and had a conversation with them. During this conversation he might not have spent the time trying to sell his candidacy, but instead to give voice to ordinary people, to probe what they want the public square to look and feel like. He could have even asked them: What will you do, to make this a better nation? This could have been a moment in which to make manifest the very deal Obama seems to want between government and citizens, an equal partnership.

Or, maybe, he might have spent the time weighing the relative merits of his and his opponent’s world views. He might have asked a co-host to present opposing views not in a demonic way, but with their best feet forward. After all, Sen. McCain is a serious person and his proposals are worth taking seriously. Why not examine them at their best, and explain why notwithstanding their good points, Obama would go in another direction? And why not point out the downsides of Obama’s own proposals – for everyone knows that there are upsides and downsides. This would just be leveling with the American people and telling them what they already know in their gut: there is no silver bullet and no one answer is undeniably the right one. This could have been a moment when the American electorate were finally being treated as the grown-ups they are.

Instead, Sen. Obama’s campaign chose to sell us a grill and a set of knives. It probably did his campaign good and it’s unlikely that it hurt.

But it could have been so much more.

This article by me first appeared in Pajamas Media.

Competition between colleges is as tough as it ever was and will definitely get tougher. But this seems ridiculous. My friends at Ethics Newsline brought to my attention that turns out that Baylor University has been paying students who are already admitted and attending the school — to retake the SAT. Just sitting for the exam can win $300 textbook credit and raising your score by 50 points wins you $1,000 in scholarship money. Considering that SAT scores can easily vary by 50 points from sitting to sitting, this is a good bet for any incoming student.

Why would Baylor want its already-admitted kids to retake the SAT? Easy: The SAT is a major part of the US News & World Report’s college ranking system. Baylor’s got a strategic plan called Baylor 2012 that evidently includes a cornerstone goal that it will do better on the US News rankings. They’re on their way, according to The Lariat, the student newspaper. Baylor’s average score SAT went from 1,200 to 1,210.

Baylor’s vice president for marketing, John Barry, first told The New York Times that there’s no problem because any other college could have done it too: “Every university wants to have great SAT scores. Every university wants to be perceived as having a high-quality class. We all wanted that. Were we happy our SAT scores went up? Yes. Did our students earn their scores? Yes they did.”

Some critics of standardized testing in general are pouncing on this because they say it reveals how evil they are. I don’t see it that way. The SAT is just a tool. So are the US News rankings. Baylor was misusing one tool to game the other – that doesn’t make the tools wrong, it makes Baylor wrong. Indeed, according to the influential Inside Higher Ed, Robert Morse (the US News “ranking czar”) made clear that the magazine “disapproves of any educational policy designed solely to manipulate the ranking.”

This episode shows how careful leaders have to be when they set goals — because staff throughout the organization might think that reaching the goal is the most important thing, not how you get there. In some areas, that can work. Schools? Not so much.

This is also a great example of gaming a system without breaking the rules. In other words, it’s a great example of the difference between what’s legal and what’s right.

While Baylor’s Barry at first said the university was “very happy with the way [the program] turned out,” they must not have been too happy about being caught. They’ve promised to cut the program, saying it was a “goof.”

The story first broke in Baylor’s student paper, The Lariat. It didn’t die with that one piece, either. In a recent editorial, The Lariat points out that:

Ultimately, the decision about SAT scores is really just a symptom of a larger problem. As Baylor progresses towards its 2012 goal, it’s seems more and more intent on fulfilling as many of the imperatives [in the strategic plan] as possible. There is a serious problem with this mentality, though. We seem so anxious to reach these goals that we aren’t considering whether we’re actually improving as a university. In this case, we’re trying to improve the appearance of our student’s scores without actually attracting higher-scoring students.

Many business schools now make ethics courses a central requirement to get that MBA, in an effort to improve things. According to Fox News religion correspondent, Lauren Green:

In the wake of the Enron collapse there’s been a bumper crop of ethics courses added to the business curriculum. The nation’s number one business school, Harvard began its much heralded and mandatory Leadership and Corporate Accountability course five years ago. . . . And Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School was established last year . . . for the express purpose of turning out business school graduates who’ll work to the corporate culture of greed to a culture favoring more socially responsible leadership.

But this assumes the problem is that people somehow need more knowledge in order to make ethical decisions. No: they need a moral compass coupled with some backbone. The Lariat’s insightful analysis shows it doesn’t take smarts and a degree to make the right decisions — it takes guts.

Someone, somewhere along the line, should have been able to stand up and say, “Um, boss? This SAT plan is wrong.” Maybe a memo to that effect will come to light, which would restore my faith in humanity.

Meanwhile, seemingly the last line of defense for Baylor’s reputation, the student editors of the paper hold out hope that should also be coming from the halls of the administrative offices: “With any luck, the damage done is not irreversible, and we can reaffirm our university as fair and ethical.”

These are my notes from yesterday’s Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. If you check this page, you can see the video. I’m slated to be on again this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.

It’s easy to pick on the Garden State of New Jersey, almost too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Former Democratic state senator Wayne Bryant, who is embroiled in a corruption trial, has asked the state elections authority for permission to use his $640,000 campaign war chest for his legal bills. The authority said no and yesterday a state appeals court heard arguments on the issue.

Bryant is accused of conspiring with the dean of a medical school to steer state money to the university in return for a no-show job that would boost his pension from $36,000 to $81,000. I’m telling you, it’s like The Sopranos! Only there’s more. Stay tuned . . . .

* * * * *

Bryant is not the only New Jersey state official using campaign money to pay for corruption defense. Former state Sen. and Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D-Essex) and former Sen. Joseph Coniglio (D-Bergen) used their campaign money for their legal fights – only they didn’t ask permission first.

Coniglio used $90,000 leftover in his war chest when Feds were looking into whether he took money from Hackensack University Medical Center in return for steering money to the hospital. He was indicted on that in in February. And former mayor James spent $50,000 of campaign money for his defense against conspiracy and fraud charges. He was convicted in April and is serving 27 months in prison and had to pay a $100,000 fine.

What’s incredible is that, in fact, New Jersey’s rules are stricter than the federal election commission’s when it comes to using campaign money – on the federal level, battling corruption charges is deemed to be an expense “relating to the duties of a federal office holder.”

So there’s something to think about next time you whip out your check book to support a candidate – might this guy end up using the money to defend against being a crook?

These are my notes from my latest Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. I don’t yet have a link to the Flash (free) version, but if you check this page, you can see the video as soon as they have posted the free version. (I am not sure they are going to keep on posting free versions; it is meant to be a paid service.)

I’m slated to be on again today and this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.


Personal identity crisis continues. What will it take for companies to take this as seriously as they should? First, there’s a report from Georgia Tech that with cell phones getting more complicated and more connected, it turns out they are perfect targets for hackers. Just imagine a horde of cell phones being programmed to periodically dial toll numbers. They’ve even got a name: “zombie phones.”

But even more scary, officials have found small devices in European point of sale card swipe machines that send selected transaction information to Pakistan. These are the card machines you use at the grocery store — totally plain vanilla. The devices appear to be untraceable and are inserted in some made-in-China MasterCard boxes. The best way to find out if a store has been infected is to literally weigh their card swipe machines. Bad machines weigh four ounces more than good ones.

This is affecting large, chain stores, including a British unit of Wal*Mart and Tesco.

It is not isolated or off the beaten path. And it really is diabolical. The machines can be set, evidently, to just send a few transactions, say like every tenth Visa Platinum transaction, once a day. They can also get new instructions when they send their take — so their work is quite hidden. Add that up over time.

What happens to the information once it goes to Pakistan? It gets used, of course. Bank withdrawals are made, plane tickets and other merchandise get purchased. So far, the estimates are between $50 and $100 million. The motivation appears not to be a espionage, but plain old theft. Authorities are watching, though, in case there is a terrorism link, the destination being in Pakistan and all.

What can companies do? That’s a tough question and it may be one of those things where the bad guys are always one step ahead of the good guys. But the good guys can get a little more serious about this. Yes, they will say they have security experts and yes, they will say that such piracy hurts them as much as it hurts, say, Joe The Plumber. “Security is our top priority.”

Nevada has instituted new rules that companies must encrypt the information they keep. But this may not be enough. The whole data chain needs to be protected, just like the food chain.

I think I am going to start paying cash for everything I can!

These are my notes from my latest Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. I don’t yet have a link to the Flash (free) version, but if you check this page, you can see the video as soon as they have posted the free version. (I am not sure they are going to keep on posting free versions; it is meant to be a paid service.)

I’m slated to be on again this Friday, Octopber 17, at 6:00 pm Eastern.

Even as he unveils a new stump speech in which he pointedly avoids personal attacks on his opponent, John McCain is getting slimed in cyberspace by a chain email that is making the rounds. This should not be a surprise; there are a number of similar emails out in the wild about Barack Obama and, more recently, Governor Sarah Palin. But this appears to be the first chain email about McCain. (There have been a few spurious emails, but they are nowhere near the level of vitriol that is aimed at Obama.)

(And see here for my friend Richard Harwood’s take on when hate wins.)

The person who appears to be the author claims that the Washington Post is working on a story about this. About a week ago, she said to expect it in about a week.

The email has the left-leaning blogosphere in a bit of a tizzy. To their credit, they are trying to fact check it.

This new email about McCain purports to be a description of one writer’s vacation encounter with the Senator in Turtle Island in Fiji, shortly before the 2000 election season. The writer says that she spent a week sharing meals and conversation with the Senator, and came away disgusted.

The McCain in the email comes across as a hilarious caricature, obsessively quoting from Faulkner night after night, referring to his adopted Bangladeshi child as a “black thing,” telling a fellow guest named Amy that she needs to lose weight, and saying that if he was in charge he would “nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson.”

Originally there was a name attached to the email, a professor at University of California Santa Cruz, but this professor has categorically denied writing the email. She says she received it and forwarded it on September 16, but not under her name.

But some left-wing bloggers have been pushing to find out who wrote the original email and the name that’s come up is Anasuya Dubey, who in 2005 was a bay-area psychology student. An Australian blogger has spoken to someone who says she is Ana and has published an email from her that claims that Michael Leahy of the Washington Post is working on a story.

Friends, I was on yesterday’s “The Whip” segment of PJTV, which is a segment where they invite their guests to talk about what the “mainstream media” is not covering, is missing, or is just not paying enough attention to. While PJTV is a subscription-based service, this link ought to take you to my segment for free (I am the second guest).

I am slated to be on PJTV on Monday and Friday next week, October 13 and October 17, at about 6pm Eastern.

Here are my notes from yesterday’s segment:

The Chinese version of Skype evidently spies on users. This was discovered by a University of Toronto researcher in relatively simple fashion — by checking out what happened when he used the f-word in a message.

(To be clear, this is a joint venture between a Chinese communications company, TOM, and Skype.)

It turns out that not only are messages being filtered, and not only are they being logged, but it was being kept on an insecure server that was easily accessed through the cyber version of guessing that someone might keep their housekey in the flowerpot.

Skype says they are very concerned about the fact that these messages were insecurely stored — which is sort of like an adulterer saying he’s sorry he got caught. As for the whole message-interception thing, they say that’s just the requirement of the Chinese government and they don’t have any say. And their past public statements about the issue have been contradictory.

This is not at all the first time there have been well-founded worries about what happens when US companies bump up against China — Google has had to promise they won’t house personal info on Chinese soil. Yahoo’s CEO had to publicly apologize to the family of someone who was jailed as a result of their disclosures to the government.

This sounds like it’s all far away — but it matters close to home too.

In the first place, the monitoring is possible not only for users of the TOM/Skype — but also domestic users who interact with the people on the Chinese system.

Secondly, it brings up the issue of what large — and rightly trusted — organizations do about their partners. This affects anyone who has ever purchased anything — point of sale data is typically handled by a contractor, for example. You might trust, say, Best Buy — but you also need to know you can trust their contractors not to lose your personal data. The untold story of the last couple of years has been the rise in inadevertent data breaches. Many millions of records have been divulged, and it’s not just because government workers accidentally take home laptops — according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, since January 2005 there have been more than 245,000,000 individual records divulged accidentally or as a result of malicious hacking.

Yes, 245 million.

I am not saying there ought to be a law — but I am saying that large companies need to get ahead of this issue. Yes it will cost money. It is money well spent.