Thomas Jackson/Getty Images

I was forwarded this Michael Geist article {h/t:: LQ} in the TO Star on lawful access legislation being tabled by the Conservatives here in Canada::

“The push for new Internet surveillance capabilities goes back to 1999, when government officials began crafting proposals to institute new surveillance technologies within Canadian networks along with additional legal powers to access surveillance and subscriber information.

The so-called lawful access initiatives stalled in recent years, but earlier this month the government tabled its latest proposal with three bills that received only limited attention despite their potential to fundamentally reshape the Internet in Canada.

The bills contain a three-pronged approach focused on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers.”

The “trifecta” of bills are listed here and here are links to the first reading versions {C-50, C-51, C-52}. Last year, Geist blogged about Parliamentary reactions to the last round of lawful access bills, with the Liberals taking a stand of “what took you so long?”, while the NDP and the Bloc supported moving the bill {c-46} to committee, but expressed concerns about balancing privacy and security. Earlier in 2009, Impolitical warned of the implications of lawful access granting increased police powers::

“The dangers of such powers being placed with law enforcement and the potential for abuses have been made abundantly clear by the experience Americans have had with the Bush administration and the revelations from whistleblowers in the last year.”

I’m still reading up on the issue, but my immediate concerns, as one in the trenches with Web 3.0 projects, is the implications of warrantless surveillance and data mining, which may not be immediately evident by Parliamentarians or the general public. Algorithms already can mine data to determine the identities of people in social networks despite privacy settings on sites like Facebook.

The telcos are expressing concerns about the costs of compliance with the proposed surveillance, as compensation schemes aren’t well-defined.

While surveillance can sound good in the abstract or the theoretical, the devil is in the details and its implementation. While Google’s Eric Schmidt has a rather unenlightened view of privacy as it concerns “wrongdoing” online, a “don’t be evil” stance, the reality is that breaches of privacy of non-illegal activity can have real and dire consequences and it assumes a benign stance of law enforcement and police powers—without judicial oversight.

Twitterversion:: [blog] “Lawful access” bills in #Canada proposing increased Internet surveillance in emerging era of Web 3.0. @ThickCulture @Prof_K

Gantry cranes & cargo containers, Port of Vancouver, BC, Canada, May 2009, Kenneth M. Kambara

Bad ones shouldn’t.

I recently read an embarrassingly naïve blog post by an economist criticizing the Obama administration and Tim Geithner of the Treasury for their export strategy of doubling strategy over the next 5 years. The blogger’s take was that you cannot increase exports without softening the dollar {making exports relatively cheaper}, at least in the short run, and that that makes no sense to him. Huh?

Well, I’m no fan of Geithner and his policies, but I’m also not a fan of handwaving economics that makes observations at the 50,000 foot level and ignore complexity and the role of organizations and strategy.

First off, I tend to agree with Fortune reporter Nin-Hai Tseng, who says that devaluing the dollar is a bad idea and that the problem with the dollar these days is its volatility. Travelling in Canada with an Visa card with a US-based bank, Wells Fargo, I got to see first hand how volatile the US dollar can be with respect to its northern counterpart. Such volatility makes business decisions riskier and much of my doctoral dissertation way back when demonstrated how at the organizational level, operational volatility has a negative effect on brands, accounting profits, and stock price.

This week, one of this big G20 concerns is currency wars, particularly in the wake of the “quantitative easing” plans by the US Federal Reserve that is pumping $600B into the economy over the next 8 months. Well, the idea is in the short run to stimulate exports, although with a “currency war”, other nations attempt to devalue their currencies to do the same. What’s the bottom line, in terms of what’s going on now? Tseng reports::

“Who knows how low the dollar might fall, but so far the drop of its value has accelerated with the second round of quantitative easing. After reaching a one-year high on June 7, the dollar weakened 7.5% against a basket of major currencies through the end October, and a whopping 18% against the euro.

All the while, the outlook for U.S. exports looks strong as household incomes grow in emerging economics including China, India and Brazil grow. In September, U.S. exports climbed to the highest level in two years, increasing by 0.3% to $154.1 billion, the US Commerce Department reported Wednesday. This helped narrow the trade deficit by 5.3% to $44 billion.

It’s true that exports only make up about 12% of the US economy, but with GDP growth so anemic, the trend in exports might actually add to growth in the short-run.”

A big issue is increased protectionism, although it should be noted that the “quantitative easing” is a form of trade barrier in that it devalues the US dollar, and increased tariffs and protectionist policies that inhibit trade could erase any export gains and cause the economy to slump further. A weakened dollar also makes imports more expensive, which could allow for increased import substitution, where buyers buy {and hire} domestically {as opposed to outsourcing}.

From an organizational point of view, a critical factor in an international business strategy is the delivery of value in global markets. Sure, currency devaluation helps, but it’s not the only factor, which is my beef with overly-generalized statements by economists. I feel that North American competitiveness, given relatively high wages and standard of living, is contingent on developing markets that leverage distinctive competencies and exports of new innovations and technologies. Rather that quibble with the South Koreans about allowing gas-guzzling US-manufactured vehicles to be exported, I’d much rather see increased focus and spending on the development and market development of US innovations. I’d like to see Canada do the same, increasingly shifting from natural resources towards increased value-added, technology, and innovation, using alliances and networks to jumpstart competitiveness, particularly in areas such as medical {red} biotech.

In the short-run, the “quantitative easing” might allow exports to pump some much-needed growth into the economy and at this point, anything helps. Does this make no sense? I think it actually does make sense, but I doubt if the Obama administration expects to fuel a doubling of exports with a weak dollar strategy for years and years.

Twitterversion:: [blog] Economist criticizes Obama/Geithner for export and dollar devaluation policies. Dismal science or dismal intellect? @Prof_K

Social media have been getting employees in hot water {remember the Cisco Fatty meme and the suspension of a professor for Facebook updates expressing frustration} and even candidates for office cannot escape the wayback machine glimpse into one’s past. I don’t think the “culture of optics” is a good thing and while before the advent of social media it was easier to control content, that is no longer the case without having a chilling effect on free speech.

The National Labor Relations Board has now ruled that a the Connecticut firm, American Medical Response, illegally fired an employee, Dawnmarie Souza, for criticizing her supervisor on Facebook, engaging in online conversations with others workers. Acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon , for the board announced::

“It’s the same as talking at the water cooler…The point is that employees have protection under the law to talk to each other about conditions at work.”

While many of the finger-waggers might think Souza et al. were engaging in a workplace facepalm moment and should expect negative consequences, the fact of the matter is that labour laws protect workers when discussing their jobs and working conditions, whether unionized or not. While Malcolm Gladwell may disagree, social media may provide an avenue for increased activism, including labour activism, which may be an issue if the economy remains in the doldrums and high unemployment creates a “buyers market” for labour.

Social media creates challenges for organizations to maintain their brand in an era of instantaneous and decentralized communications that can foster multiple dialogues outside of the control of the organization. These dialogues make the organization more transparent and can increase goodwill and trust. In fact, I would argue that the challenge of many organizations is to communicate both trust and competence with their stakeholders and social media can foster both.

What I think is going to happen is that organizations are going to continue surveillance of employees and focus on more rigorous screening at hiring. This won’t eliminate the thorny issue of what to do when social media fosters conversations that the organization doesn’t want to have or isn’t prepared for…which is why transparency’s a bitch.

Twitterversion:: [blog] Thoughts on NLRB ruling stating worker complaining about supervisor on Facebook was illegally fired. @ThickCulture @Prof_K

Network Structures from Uzzi {1997}, "Social structure and competition in interfirm networks"

This blog post is part of a series on Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on how social activism during the Civil Rights era is categorically different from activism using social media. Malcolm Gladwell’s controversial piece in this week’s New Yorker is shaking things up, as he’s advocating that social media doesn’t lend itself well to social activism. He cites examples of how social media only fosters surface-level, low-commitment actions based on weak ties and that social movements, like those pushing for civil rights, require hierarchies. I disagree. Others have, as well, as John Hudson has compiled over on The Atlantic. I’ll focus on Gladwell’s take on weak ties in this post, which I find problematic due to his sweeping generalizations of ties and their potential in guiding everyday life. The Nature of Ties Gladwell claims that social media fosters weak ties::

“There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.”

Others have critiqued this by stating that social media tools {like Twitter and Facebook} can foster more than weak ties. Network structures are combinations of both weak and strong ties. The organizational research of Brian Uzzi at Northwestern {see image above} found that there are dangers of being overembedded {too many strong ties leading to insularity} and being underembedded {too many weak  or arms-length ties leading to a lacking of social structure}. Gladwell’s critique on this front hinges upon characterizing all networks as underembedded networks. There’s another issue here, which is the content of the tie. Ties can be characterized as strong or weak, but they can also be multiplex, i.e., representing a complex relationship that has more than one channel. For example, a tie can be characterized by flows of different types of capital, e.g., social, economic, political, etc., with varying degrees of strength. Social media campaigns can and do tap into networks and use people’s multiplex ties to increase engagement. Hearing about an issue through someone in your network is often more persuasive than from media and advertising, so there’s great potential here, but going from a social media campaign to action, let alone social change, is far from automatic.

My next post will address the issue of motivation and social media. Gladwell doesn’t think social media motivates people, but drives participation. I question this puzzling sweeping generalization.

Bourdieu's field

Yesterday afternoon, I saw Fincher’s The Social Network with fingers-crossed that Sorkin’s bantery dialogue wouldn’t cause me to cringe like a bad number on Glee. I’ll blog about the film on rhizomicon this weekend, but the film reminded me of several aspects of the sociology of online spaces I’ve been mulling over. The film depicted Harvard in 2003 where a hierarchical social order existed in the face-to-face realm. Mark Zuckerberg ran with the idea of taking the collegiate de Certeauean everyday, in all of its mundane glory…online

Facebook is perhaps the perfect Web 2.0 app. User-driven content, interactive information sharing within social networks, etc. etc. Facebook allows users to create multidimensional fielded networks, using Bourdieu’s concept of field/champs. Here’s a summary from an Economist article from last year on the sociology of Facebook, based on how people use the site.

Not surprisingly, we tend to interact with a finite number of other people in our social networks. I’m thinking that as we move into Web 3.0, there will be pressure towards…a diversity of ties. We will be able to interact with others not on the basis of extant contacts and networks, but on other dimensions that may even be latent, e.g., a penchant for music in 3/4 time or a love of books with socialist themes. genre visualization, using Tulip & Pajek allows users to find others that have similar musical tastes, find similar bands to those with profiles, and friend others. Here’s an analysis {in French} of a network [Google translation] with great interactive visualizations. Each artist on has users who like and listen to them. The data is being ported to other sites, such as Songkick, that uses feeds to populate a database of live shows. I think it’s a powerful concept to be able to find like-minded others who might be right next door or around the globe.

Web 3.0 or the semantic web won’t destroy Web 2.0, but will shift focus from user-driven content to the utilization of users’ data. This will push social networking away from user-defined networks and I feel it will foster more tie diversity, not necessarily in terms of demographics, although this is a possibility, but in terms of geography and psychographics. Will Facebook be able to adapt to a scenario of users’ forging multiplex ties based on data or will it get bogged down with user expectations of what the site means to them and those clinginging to the notion of privacy?

Joan, Peggy, & Dr. Faye, "The Beautiful Girls", Mad Men S04E09, vidcap via Videogum

Mad Men is great trainwreck theatre full of those “oh no they didn’t” moments all shot sumptuously like cookbooks with supersaturated colour from that era. Call me a crank, but the female characters in last night’s episode reminded me of lines from Henrik Ibsen plays…

Joan & her less than “Sterling” reputation:: “Oh courage…oh yes! If only one had that…Then life might be livable, in spite of everything.”—Hedda Gabler

Peggy Blue Got Harried {in the Ideological Divide}:: “Whether I pound or am being pounded, all the same there will be moaning!” —Peer Gynt

Dr. Faye “Donning” doormat apparel:: “Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks if you would be nice, and do what she wants.”—Nora in A Doll’s House

Twitterversion:: [blog] The women of mad men channelled through Henrik Ibsen.  @ThickCulture @Prof_K

{Hat tip:: LinnyQat} Republican strategist Jack Burkman and former NY Senator Al D’Amato, a Republican, went toe-to-toe on Fox Business. Burkman was rehashing arguments about US post office waste, but has a twist. He went after “unskilled Nigerians and Ethiopians” that he claims the US is “importing” and the massive unions protecting them. Burkman also claims that the post offices are used by politicians to plaster their names on them.

While D’Amato is actually for privatization of the post office {and public-private partnerships}, he berated Burkman for bringing national origin into the argument, as opposed to focusing on skills and organizational waste. D’Amato also said that Burkman hurts the cause with his remarks. Another panelist, attorney Tamara Holder, also in favour of privatization, found Burkman’s statements to be out-of-line and racist.

It appears that some libertarians or those with libertarian leanings are having less patience for wrapping economic arguments with jingoistic statements that are cheap ploys at stirring up emotions.

Twitterversion:: [blog] Fmr NY Senator Al D’Amato [R] goes after GOP strategist Jack Burkman for racist characterizations of postal workers. @ThickCulture @Prof_K

Notes from North of 49ºN

Lyon in Ambush

Last month, I was watching CNN and saw Amber Lyon’s Craigslist trafficking story, which struck me as shoddy gotcha journalism used to stem the tide of CNN’s downward spiralling ratings. Her more recent story covers Craigslist’s removal of the adult services section {replaced with the word “censored” in the US} and also shows the clip I mentioned::

When I saw this, I felt that Amber was conflating trafficking and sex work and that her catching of the founder, Craig Newmark, like a deer-in-the-headlights was for pure dramatic effect. Newmark called her out on her ambush, which she took offense to and got rather huffy about anyone calling into question her journalistic ethics. So, let’s get this straight, she created a fake ad, solicited johns with the words “sweet, innocent new girl with a WILD streak…”, evoking a “To Catch a Predator” vibe, and equated responses to her ad with evidence of intent to engage in underage trafficking. Craig responded, as did CEO Jeff Buckmaster, but the fact of the matter as I see it is that she, along with 17 states’ attorneys general, opted to create a sex panic for ratings and political gain, respectively. Jeff Jarvis’ take is that regulators and old media are going after Craigslist because it’s a technological disruptor upsetting the established power structures. I think there might be something to that, but I’ll wager going after adult services on online sites is like the pornography prosecutions in the late 1980s {see Frontline, American Porn}. Politically, going after sex work on the Internet is low hanging fruit in the court of public opinion and throwing in underage trafficking into the mix is an attempt to make such endeavors by attorneys general appear unassailable. The acid test of one’s motives should be how policy affects the abused. Crackdowns will only serve to drive sex work underground, further exacerbating the issue of helping those who need it.

Markets & Institutions

I feel that this issue of Craigslist as a market creator that doubles as a hotbed of immoral and illegal activities taps into cultural hot buttons that lead us astray from those being abused—the trafficked. There are serious issues to address here regarding the quasi-markets of sex work that aren’t legitimized, yet have been allowed to proliferate on the Internet and in free weeklies. The lack of legitimacy fosters an environment for exploitation and abuse for sex work, by those in positions of power. Sadly, this can involve unscrupulous law enforcement officers taking advantage of their positions. The institutional framework {government agencies, law enforcement, non-profits, etc.} operate within a context where issues of sex work are criminal justice matters, not ones of public health. Melissa Gira Grant in an article today cites three studies on sex work, institutions, and police::

“Even when girls sought out the support they needed – from drug treatment and foster care programs to hospitals and the police – they were denied help because of their involvement in the sex trade…In a University of California at San Francisco study published in 2009, 22 percent of San Francisco adult female sex workers surveyed reported having police as paying customers. Fourteen percent were threatened with arrest if they did not have sex with a police officer. Washington cops fare no better: in a report published on people involved in or perceived to be involved in the sex trade, Different Avenues reveals that one in five people were solicited for sex by the police. They also report that police confiscated safer sex supplies, and strip-searched and assaulted people suspected of prostitution.”

A criminal justice approach sets up a series of power dynamics within a market system and with the advent of sex panics come the temptation to engage in clampdowns.

So, what will happen in light of the Craigslist ban? James Temple of the SF Chron was interviewed on All Things Considered {via Melissa Gira Grant} offering some insights::

If the player doesn’t launch, click here.

He cites what CEO Jim Buckmaster said what would happen, i.e., the adult services ads would move to other parts of Craigslist. This makes it harder for Craigslist and law enforcement to engage in surveillance efforts.

Crime & Punishment

Microsoft researcher, danah boyd, in a HuffPo post addresses several issues regarding the Craigslist ban. I agree with her take on visibility and I feel that forcing sex work and trafficking underground will only serve to harm those being abused. I agree that online spaces can be made risky for criminals, but I’m wary of civil liberties abuses stemming from online activities being monitored. While I haven’t had the experience of talking to many law enforcement officers, like danah has, on the topic of Internet and crime, but I’m wary of increased leveraging on online technologies by law enforcement, particularly in stings or clampdowns. Why? I think this places a great deal of faith that a criminal justice approach to the abuses in sex work will actually help the victims. The system is set up to punish those breaking the law, not addressing the root causes of the issues. The same hold true for the elicit drug trade. I see both substance abuse and trafficking to be better served with a public health approach and I’d rather see more investments there than towards increased law enforcement with the objective of catching perps. On the other hand, as Grant pointed out in this 2009 Slate article, technologies like Craigslist do create a marketplace “commons” where users leave traces that can be used in surveillance to solve crimes, such as the so-called Craigslist killer in Boston. Within our current state, I think there’s a role for a certain amount of collaboration between websites and law enforcement, but one that’s not too cozy.

I do have a suggestion for Amber Lyon’s next journalistic coup. There are no bans on adult services in Canada, so she can go to the border crossings with a camera crew and look for suspicious-looking pervy characters heading to Vancouver, Toronto, and Montréal, bringing only a laptop, a cellphone, and an overnight bag.

Screenshot from Craigslist—Toronto,

Song:: “Prostitute”-Fifteen

Twitterversion:: [blog] Craigslist ban on adult services due to sex panic pressure ignores institutional issues & those needing help. @Prof_K @ThickCulture

Obama finally weighed in on the “mosque at ground zero” kerfuffle. From how the heated rhetoric is flying, one would imagine that the proposed mosque and community centre is right at the site, which it isn’t. Yesterday, at the White House, Barack stated::

“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country…That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances…This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable…Time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values and emerge stronger for it. So it must be and will be today.”

While NYC Mayor Bloomburg expressed support for Obama’s message and the mosque and cultural centre, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and other Republicans have used the mosque as a wedge issue.

Debra Burlingame, an activist representing some of the 9/11 victims and sister of one of the pilots killed in the attacks said::

“Barack Obama has abandoned America at the place where America’s heart was broken nine years ago, and where her true values were on display for all to see…Building the mosque at ground zero is a deliberately provocative act that will precipitate more bloodshed in the name of Allah.”

Burlingame warns of the fundamentalist nature of Islam in the following video, invoking talk of conspiracy theories::

The framing of Islam as a monolithic “other” in direct opposition of American values seems a bit extreme, let alone equating the religion with terrorist acts or organizations. Others are offering a slightly softer criticism by saying that a mosque near ground zero does violence to the families of the victims. Again, the problem is that Islam is being equated with attacks.

Globalization is laying the groundwork for increases in such “clashes of civilizations”, as anti-Islamic sentiments rise in both Europe and the North America. Public opinion in the U.S. isn’t with Obama on this one 52-31%.

I get a sense that many can separate the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church from all Baptist or Christianity. Equating Islam with the actions of Al-Qaeda and placing limitations on Islamic religious institutions to be built near “hallowed ground” out of a sensitivity for victims fosters values that are unable or unwilling to make fine distinctions.

I’m reminded of Richard A. Clarke’s 2005 fictitious dystopic vision of the United States in 2011.

“Perhaps, too, we could have followed the proposal of the 9/11 Commission and engaged the Islamic world in a true battle of ideas. Indeed, if we had not from the start adopted tactics and rhetoric that cast the war on terror as a new ‘Crusade,’ as a struggle of good versus evil, we might have been able to achieve more popular support in the Islamic world. Our attempts to change Islamic opinion with an Arabic-language satellite-television news station and an Arabic radio station carrying rock music were simply not enough. We talked about replacing the hate-fostering madrassahs with modern educational programs, but we never succeeded in making that happen. Nor did we successfully work behind the scenes with our Muslim friends to create an ideological counterweight to the jihadis. Although we talked hopefully about negotiated outcomes to the Palestinian conflict and the struggle in Chechnya, neither actually came to pass.”

Within the context of globalization, the mosque at ground zero is the wrong stand to be taking.

Song:: Les Negresses Vertes-“200 Ans d’Hipocrisy”

Twitterversion:: [blog] @BarackObama weighs in on ground-zero mosque issue. Those framing Islam as the “other” missing bigger picture. @Prof_K @ThickCulture

US Unemployment Rate (blue line) & recessions, 1976-2009, BLS

Greetings from Kingston, Ontario. Happy Civic Holiday/Provincial Day weekend to many Canadian readers.

José’s post on the Democrats and the Voting Income Gap got me thinking about historical unemployment, which was 9.6% in June of 2010. One of the things to recall is that recessions and episodes of nationwide high unemployment tend to be short. Mobilizing lower income voters and increasing numbers of the middle class should be easier for the Democrats over time, if The Big Recession persists. Moreover, it’s not clear that the Republicans are offering platforms that are resonating outside of their base.

Looking at the Canadian unemployment rates, there are lingering eras with years of rates being over 8%. Generally speaking, these eras of high unemployment correspond with the rise of the fortunes of the New Democrats, a left-centre pro-labour party.

Canadian Unemployment Rates, 1976-2009

The NDP saw surges in Parliamentary seats in the elections of 1984 and 1997, in the midst of eras of high unemployment. Currently, the NDP is polling relatively strongly, although so are the Greens, which may fragment the vote on the left. Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government is hanging on because the Liberal Party is in disarray, with both of the major parties {Liberals & Conservatives} being relatively unpopular.

Lessons for the US?

It’s the economy, stupid. The Big Recession is hitting the middle class and rhetoric is only going to go so far. A big question is whether Democrats are willing move beyond centrist policies and if {a big if} they go towards Keynesianism, how will that be implemented?

Song:: Heaven 17-‘This Is Mine’

Twitterversion:: [blog] The politics of unemployment. Looking at economic eras in Canada & the US #ThickCulture @Prof_K