News links — 7 September 2012 morning

This morning’s news links of interest…

Hiring Slows in August, Adding to Pressure on Fed and Obama
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/business/economy/us-added-96000-jobs-in-august-rate-fell-to-8-1.html

Jobs Data Could Hurt Any Convention Bump for Obama

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/us/politics/job-numbers-may-undermine-obama-convention-bump.html

Election May Decide Medicaid’s Future
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/health/policy/long-term-care-looms-as-rising-medicaid-cost.html

The Dangerous Center
http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/the-dangerous-center/

Fire This Guy?
http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/fire-this-guy/

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Occupy Austin issues — My Examiner articles get top news ranking by Google

Here in Central Texas, a lot’s been happening, especially over the past several days, with the Occupy Austin movement — and I’ve been involved tangentially, as a journalist. Several weeks ago I was accepted as a reporter/columnist for Examiner.com, covering the Austin Civil Liberties beat. I’ve published several articles, but my coverage of the eviction of Occupy Austin from the front plaza of Austin City Hall managed to get top ranking on the first SERP page of Google News “Occupy Austin” search results over the past couple of days.

Here are the articles on the Occupy Austin affair published so far:

Austin: City officials and cops evict “permanent” Occupy Austin protest

This article describes the background to the police crackdown and the eviction itself.

Occupy Austin update: Protesters regroup after eviction, vow to continue

This article focuses on events the next evening, including an Occupy Austin general assembly and a march to a homeless facility.

Occupy Austin’s surprise eviction under stealth of night fits a pattern

Further details about how the nighttime sneak attack on the Occupy Austin encampment was planned well in advance, and fits a pattern of similar assaults in other cities.

Both articles provide analysis of the national Occupy movement, and how the Austin group fits in this context.

An earlier article (my first for Examiner) provides an overall background to the issue of civil liberties in Austin, with some discussion of Occupy Austin within that larger context:

Austin’s “weirdness” threatened in attacks on civil liberties

I’ll post more about my other Examiner articles later…

English grammar problems — My first EzineArticles commentary scrutinizes an epidemic

Well, it’s been over two months since I started this blog and posted anything to it, and I think it’s high time that I begin to post to it regularly and keep it updated. So here goes.

A lot has happened in the meantime. One of the first writing-related events was the acceptance of my article on grammar problems by the EzineArticles online Web magazine. It was published 17 November 2011:

English Abuse Epidemic! 4 Common Strains of the Disease
http://ezinearticles.com/?English-Abuse-Epidemic!-4-Common-Strains-of-the-Disease&id=6708610

And yes, I truly do perceive the breakdown of English grammar (especially here in the USA) as a serious epidemic.

It’s become pervasive — even presumably “educated” people (politicians, journalists, etc.) are talking like illiterate doofuses with utterances such as “He had went downtown…” and “It was time for she and I to go….” Yuk!

Other consequences include the deterioration of communication among us English-speaking humans and especially the degradation of pleasurable, elegant literary craftwork. A lot of routine written material (like news, business, and legal writing) has become so garbled, often filled with malapropisms, that you end up scratching your head, trying to figure out what the writer is trying to say. And way too much supposedly artistic creative writing tends to be filled with annoying fundamental errors that can distract and embarrass. (In otherwise truly brilliant writing, such grammatical blips are small but unfortunate blemishes.)

Why is this? I suspect a major part of the problem was a decision, perhaps 3 decades or so ago, by the English teaching establishment to basically stop concentrating on teaching correct grammar to students (starting at elementary level) and sort of “go with the flow” … in other words, just pretty much accept the way people talk as the way to define proper English. Not A Good Idea.

I may elaborate more on this later, and possibly publish an article on this issue. But I hesitate to write too much in one place in this blog about it, because of the Google-Panda menace (I’ve written articles about this, and will post links later). What this basically means is that if you write extensively about something, then try to use those same thoughts (and words, to some extent) in a publishable article, your article may be rejected by the publisher because it will be robot-checked as a “duplicate” with whatever you wrote originally. Maybe you can see why I refer to this as a “menace”. Anyway, more to come on this…

Privacy under attack — Are they tracking you?

The escalating assault on individual privacy is frightening (and enraging) enough as it is, but revelations in a New York Times article from a few days ago (November 12th) make it all even scarier … and more outrageous. The report, “Face Recognition Makes the Leap From Sci-Fi” by Natasha Singer, can be found at the following URL:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/business/face-recognition-moves-from-sci-fi-to-social-media.html

(The Times has a paywall, but accessing it through links like this should get you through…)

Basically, this “Face Recognition” article oughta give you pause about putting your photo up anywhere on the Internet, especially if you highly value your privacy and anonymity. (Notice I’m not rushing to post my photo anywhere on this blog…)

Singer recounts how this technology is proliferating, creeping creepily into all kinds of applications, with the potential for eradicating the ability of every single one of us to remain anonymous, unnoticed … and untracked. That’s the really scary bit – the prospect that “they” (Godzilla corporations or state authorities) are acquiring the capability to track you anywhere you go … anytime … all the time …

Describing facial recognition technology as “a staple of sci-fi thrillers”, Singer relates an application being used by pubs in Chicago:

SceneTap, a new app for smart phones, uses cameras with facial detection software to scout bar scenes. Without identifying specific bar patrons, it posts information like the average age of a crowd and the ratio of men to women, helping bar-hoppers decide where to go. More than 50 bars in Chicago participate.

As SceneTap suggests, techniques like facial detection, which perceives human faces but does not identify specific individuals, and facial recognition, which does identify individuals, are poised to become the next big thing for personalized marketing and smart phones. That is great news for companies that want to tailor services to customers, and not so great news for people who cherish their privacy. The spread of such technology — essentially, the democratization of surveillance — may herald the end of anonymity.

“And” as the article reports, “this technology is spreading.” Singer cites the technology of Manhattan-based Immersive Labs, a company that “has developed software for digital billboards using cameras to gauge the age range, sex and attention level of a passer-by.”

The smart signs, scheduled to roll out this month in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, deliver ads based on consumers’ demographics. In other words, the system is smart enough to display, say, a Gillette ad to a male passer-by rather than an ad for Tampax.

But, she warns, “Those endeavors pale next to the photo-tagging suggestion tool introduced by Facebook this year.

When a person uploads photos to the site, the “Tag Suggestions” feature uses facial recognition to identify that user’s friends in those photos and automatically suggests name tags for them. It’s a neat trick that frees people from the cumbersome task of repeatedly typing the same friends’ names into their photo albums.

Singer notes that other commonly available photo editing software, such as tools offered by Picasa and Google, “work similarly.”

Her article provides several more examples of the application of this technology, most of them designed just to detect whether an individual’s face is visible at all, or what the person’s sex (“gender”) is. “But privacy advocates worry about more intrusive situations” Singer notes.

Government privacy guardians (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?) are supposedly exhibiting some concern – the article cites examples of concern expressed by officials at the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the US Federal Trade Commission and the Hamburg Data Protection Authority in Germany. Specifically citing the head of the latter authority, for instance, Singer reports that “many users do not understand that Facebook’s tag suggestion feature involves storing people’s biometric data to re-identify them in later photos.”

According to that particular official, writes Singer, “In the long term … such popular uses of facial recognition could moot people’s right to remain anonymous.”

I’m not a Luddite, but Holy Moly, this is one leading-edge technology I’d like to bollix as much as I can…

(c) L. Henry aka Writing Perspectives

Welcome to Writing Perspectives

Writing Perspectives is a blog primarily focused on writing issues (including both literary fiction and journalistic nonfiction), especially as they are impacted or influenced by political, cultural, and technological developments.

This blog is also intended to include samples of my published writings – both copies and links.

— LH