Should we watch beheading videos?

On The Media had an interesting segment in Friday's show discussing whether or not it's helpful or important to watch propaganda videos released by terrorist organizations. Here's the audio, or you can download the MP3:

The discussion touches on some thought-provoking questions, including what good is served by viewing the videos, and whether or not media organization should display or outright censor these videos in the first place.

Related, DecodeDC has an interesting episode on whether or not the U.S. has a responsibility to act against ISIS:

Uncomfortable

Most every day I try to read something that makes me uncomfortable. Something that challenges my worldview, reminds me of my privilege, prompts me to think about unmet wants and needs of others in the world, or that just helps me step outside of my everyday understanding of how things work.

A few sources I turn to when I want to be uncomfortable include:

Sometimes my discomfort turns to anger or sadness, sometimes it turns into ideas, sometimes it even results in action. Most often it's helpful to me, sometimes it's not. But being uncomfortable now and then feels important.

Toward less discrimination in Indiana

Supreme Court StepsI wish that we lived in a world where the legitimacy of a personal relationship commitment wasn't connected to whether or not a given government or institution was willing to recognize it as such. I wish that the sanctity and significance of marriage or other forms of commitment were derived solely from the care, intention and hard work that its participants (perhaps including their families, friends and surrounding community) invested to make and maintain those vows.

But that is not the world we live in, at least not anymore, or yet. For now, we ask and allow our state and federal governments, religious institutions and cultural leaders to tell us what kinds of personal relationship commitments are legitimate and what kinds are not.

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Elements of an effective editorial

Lighthouse stairsIn October I concluded my time as a member of the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board, which I joined about two years ago.  I enjoyed the experience and while (as expected) I didn't always agree with the views published by the paper, I felt like I was able to bring a perspective and approach that helped shape the overall conversation.  There have been few other places in my day-to-day life since college where people regularly gather in a room to vehemently but respectfully talk (okay, and sometimes shout) in depth and in person about current events and important issues facing the city.

I was already a fairly close reader of the viewpoints page in the Pal-Item and other publications, but being on the editorial board inspired and required even closer attention to what topics local writers were submitting letters and columns about, and how they went about presenting their views.  As a result, I've put together a list of elements that I found to be present in the most effective and engaging editorials I've read:

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Hello, Bitcoin

Bitcoin, bitcoin coin, physical bitcoin, bitcoin photoWhen I first read about Bitcoin, the open source peer-to-peer digital currency, I thought it was just another in a long line of attempts to create an online alternative to the dollar that would probably not see wide adoption.

Then I watched "End of the Road: How Money Became Worthless," and started to understand more about fiat currency and the dangers that come with depending on it.  After a friend explained a little more about how Bitcoin works and how it was designed to transcend many of our current challenges with fiat money, I went back and took another look.

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RP&L misses opportunity to engage on energy policy

EnergyIn a guest column in today's Palladium-Item, Richmond Power and Light missed an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about the future of energy and power generation in our region.   Instead, General Manager James French took the unfortunate approach of appealing to ratepayer fears about increased energy costs or drastic lifestyle changes, and the politicization of U.S. energy policy.

If President Obama’s plan is enacted, every flick of a light switch, every running of an air conditioner and every spin of your dryer will cost you more and at the expense of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Consumers will be faced with either paying more for their bill or doing without several of their everyday conveniences.

Scientific, economic and environmental data all point clearly to the ways in which coal-based power generation is not sustainable, and perhaps more importantly, the public health and environmental risks that it increasingly poses.  As the Obama administration and many other public and private organizations try to work toward policies and practices that are sustainable and practical, it's important to make sure we're talking about the real facts and options in front of us, and to make sure the public is educated about those along the way.

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I have read and agree to the terms of service

NSA Seal

As revelations continue about the US Government capturing and monitoring online activities and communications, I'm glad (and, ok, only a little bit smug) to see that more conversations are happening about just what privacy expectations we should give up by using modern Internet tools and services.

Most of the mainstream conversation has been focused on what information "big data" companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple do or don't hand over to the government and under what circumstances, and debating where those lines should be.

The built-in assumption here is that it's inevitable that these are the companies that will continue to have access to our private information and communications. I grant that it's a pretty safe assumption - I don't foresee a mass exodus from Facebook or a global boycott on iPhones - but I do think it's important to note that this is a choice we are making as users and consumers of these services.  We are the ones who click through the "terms of service" and "privacy policy" documents without reading them so we can get our hands on cool free stuff, we are the ones who are glad to entrust our intimate exchanges to technology we don't understand.

A certain amount of naiveté about the security and privacy implications of the tools we use is understandable here.  When I've given presentations on email privacy and security issues, some attendees are legitimately gasping at the new understanding that their e-mail messages are traversing the open internet as plain text messages that can potentially be read by any number of parties involved in the management of those servers and networks.  The average user probably assumes that the Internet was designed from the ground up to be a robust and secure way of conducting financial transactions and sending suggestive photos of themselves to amorous contacts.

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Blogging about economic development in Wayne County

I'm excited to see that Valerie Shaffer, the new President of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, has started a blog about her activities in that role.  The blog is complemented by a "frequently asked questions" section on the EDC website, which tries to address some of the common questions (and misperceptions) about the organization.

Whatever your take on the EDIT Tax, the EDC and their role in economic development efforts, this is a new and welcome level of transparency.

Shaffer's posts so far are authentic and to the point, bypassing some of the marketing spin that it might be tempting for an organization of the EDC's prominence to engage in when they know site selectors are looking.  She links to related resources, encourages questions and feedback, and makes repeated commitments to opening the lines of communication between her office and other voices in the community.

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The Palladium-Item Paywall

At the beginning of September, the Palladium-Item newspaper in Richmond implemented what many other newspapers have in recent years, a "paywall" that requires users to have a paid subscription when viewing more than a certain number of articles per month on the paper's website.  The paper launched some new features with their digital subscription, including a tablet version and new mobile versions.

I think this approach is a great thing, and is probably something they should have done a long time ago.  Here's why.

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