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Featured Life Perspective

Is it pensions, or wealth inequality that means we’re worse off than our folks?

A recent article in the Guardian prompted me to ask an open-ended question on Facebook. What followed is the beginning of an interesting conversation, which I’d like to study further.

Here’s what I asked:

Is it just pensions, or is it because more wealth is in the hands of fewer people overall that we are worse off than our parents’ generation?

Guardian article:

Exclusive new data shows how debt, unemployment and property prices have combined to stop millennials taking their share of western wealth

cf.

Oxfam article:

62 people own same as half world.


Replies

Don Nalezyty:

I think it’s a combination of many factors. Concentration of wealth certainly plays a big role, but there are many more factors and the author hit on many in the article.

I think globalization in the last few decades has had significant impact. The math is pretty simple. If you allow free trade with countries where the cost of manufacturing is significantly less and those manufacturing jobs are lost, you can’t make up those lost blue-collar jobs with new technology or white-collar jobs. The crazy thing is that it’s self reinforcing – the cost of goods drops and the government is not concerned about overall income dropping for the average Joe, because everything costs less… it’s a fallacy that these economic arrangements have long-term benefit, but again the government doesn’t really care, because those benefiting from these policies are spending the big money to elect their peers and those willing to protect their interests.

The cost of education has skyrocketed in the US in that same time frame, but again their are fewer jobs to be had. It’s policy at many US based global companies to hire cheaper labor in emerging markets with preference over US citizens, because they cost too much to employ. There is often a preference for employing folks with H1B status here in the States for the same reason. It’s not that there are no US candidates in the market, but that they cost too much. So young folks that are spending two to three times more for their college education than I did are competing for fewer and fewer jobs that pay less.

I think that the great recession as it’s been called has not ended, nor have we seen the worst of it. I think this trend is going to continue until it hits some sort of breaking point. I’m not sure what form it will take, but it’s going to have to get much worse before the people start affecting real change in the political arena.

Zach Beauvais:

Yes, definitely. I think part of the breaking point can already be seen in the choices people make in the political arena – e.g. Trump (or even Cruz, for that matter) – and the rise of security-based rhetoric, which directly addresses fear. People are physically safer than at any time in the history of the world – for the most part – but they are uneasy, which leads to fear. And, security promises safety, which is a reaction to fear. I think the unease is partly down to financial security, but not all of it – and that’s where I’m struggling to find good reasons.

Another is in the choices we make about longer-term problems, such as climate change. We’re scared now, so the future (even the not-so-distant future) is a problem for later. Right now, we’re scared, and we don’t understand why we’re scared.

The problem with fear is that it short-cuts reason. Sure, we can publish studies that show violent crime is down, but we’re scared, so we retreat to fortresses and arm ourselves. This escalates tension, and we start looking for threats.

Which is partly why people are looking to blame the other – anything that’s not familiar. Immigrants, technology, even studies or education: all suffer from being distrusted and feared.

I think these are playing a role in authoritarian rhetoric, record sales in arms and defence budgets, and anti-intellectualism.

I’m reading about authoritarian rhetoric, and want to dig deeper into the discourse. I’ve got a niggle that the way we choose the things we read (watch, hear) is also affecting the way we talk about and relate to the world. We don’t watch the same news, like our parents did – we choose ever more-focused media.

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Featured Topical

Greed is good?

This is a response I gave during a Facebook discussion about an article discussing Gravity Payments’ CEO implementing a high minimum wage for his employees. We talked a bit about how this isn’t socialism, and I ended up writing this.

I think the culture of executive greed (being seen as a straightforward good for the world) is toxic – and we’re seeing the poison take hold. I’m not a huge fan of autocratic socialism – or any system that’s too quenching of liberty. In fact, I see society – or the social space – as our shared responsibility. It’s what makes it a democracy, right?

So we need to put limits on the greed of the few to make their living off the backs of the many. It’s where capitalism has started to – no. Not started – has absolutely demonstrated that it’s in contention with liberty and democracy.

I tend to be a capitalist in matters of economics, but the engine that runs capitalism is meant to be competition and fairness. Fairness only seems to work when we set limits. The state is what we make it, so when “the state steps in,” that should be the collective, democratic foot it steps with. This is in contrast to a state that looks to interfere with personal liberties. This is supposed to be the battle cry of the American conservative, but the most interfering social policies seem to come from that quarter now. Maybe the corruption of power has altered the trajectory in the last few decades?

I’m also a Christian, and I believe that the separation of church and state doesn’t exist to keep people of faith out of the public space. It gives the churches (and temples, mosques, and skeptics’ cafes) freedom to speak the truths they see; and for me, that is against greed. I don’t understand the logical steps between Christianity and hard-core capitalism. Sure, there are some fair things in that system which work well: you earn a living, and can make yourself better off – theoretically.

But “greed is good”? Tell me how that works when you get your camel through a needle.

*Photo by Zach Beauvais via 2 – [CC By-SA]

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Digital Featured Perspective

Is everyone a content creator?

A couple weeks back, I spoke at a client conference for Zengenti (where I work). We split the day into two broad streams – one focused on developers and sysadmins, and the other for “content.”

It’s been interesting working for a CMS vendor, and I like the fact that they properly focus on the content side of content management systems. This talk was fun, though watching it makes me cringe terribly.

I spoke about content governance – the who side of content strategy. I also wanted people to start thinking about editorial workflows, and learn from newspapers.

[responsive_vid]

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Featured Life

Pastures new

photo of a lamb standing on top of a eweI have some news. I will be leaving the lovely team at Fluent, where I have been their in-house content strategist for over a year. I have accepted a very tempting offer from a company called Zengenti.

Zengenti produces an enterprise-sized content management system (CMS), which powers big websites – such as Kings College London (my alma mater). My new title will be Head of Content and Communities, and the job description is quite wide. I’ll be working with pretty much every team, and helping clients to organise their content (which is, after all, what websites are for), and make the most of their websites. I’ll also be helping Zengenti to build up and support their community of users and partner companies.

Zengenti is based in Ludlow, and I’ll be working there two days each week, and remotely the rest. They have a good team, and I know a few folk already through an event I started years back called Shropgeek.

I am looking forward to spending time in my favourite place on earth, and equally having more time here in our new (and first) home.

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Featured Life Narrative Perspective

Remember your baptism!

I'm the beardy one“Remember your baptism!” Droplets splatter my face, and a strong scent of rosemary fills the air as the grinning bishop flicks water at us.

This was not part of the confirmation service I was expecting. Members of the Ely Cathedral congregation were urged with a splash to recall their original commitment to Christ. It’s a tricky task for most, being asked to bring to mind a service in which they took part as infants. To make it easier, we were reminded of the promises made by our godparents.

Thing is, I haven’t got any godparents. And, I can remember my baptism with clarity:

“Zachariah, I now baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Buried…”

The rest was washed out by the inrush of chilly water, and the sensation of being submerged backwards by a big, kind-hearted man who’s grin was remarkably like that of the rosemary-brandishing bishop. But I knew the rest of the words by heart:

“… in likeness of His death. Raised again to walk in the newness of life.”

As I re-lived my baptism, I was taking part in a service of confirmation, alongside two friends with whom I’ve shared several months of lessons. My plans to be confirmed as an Anglican have been a conversation-starter:

photo of a carved, wooden cross“Wait, weren’t you confirmed already?”

Well, sort of. I was raised in the Baptist tradition of Christianity, but the teaching of both are remarkably similar. The Church of England teaches that confirmation is an adult decision to commit your life to Christ. The Baptists say the same, but with more water, and tie confirmation and baptism together into one almighty dunking.

I see my recent confirmation as a reaffirmation of my decision to follow Christ. My baptism means no less to me, though I was only eight. Being anointed with oil in a cathedral is a chapter from my story with the church as I am now – at very nearly 30.


Written for the news magazine of All Saints Church, Cottenham. Reposted with kind permission.
Top image credit: © 2014, Monique Ingalls, all rights reserved. Used with kind permission
Image of wooden cross: © 2014, Zach Beauvais, some rights reserved: CC BY-SA

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Blog Featured Life Perspective

I used FaxYourGP to opt out of care.data.

Update below

Fax Your GP care.dataFor a couple weeks, Radio 4’s PM has been sharing dreadful worries over care.data, an NHS initiative to collate our medical records into a single database. Every caller I’ve heard has complained, and is scared about their data. My own reaction is conflicted.

I used to work as an evangelist for a company that advocated open data. I believe that opening up data tends to enable progress. You know that quick-fire game where you say the first thing that comes to mind? If you said: “open data,”

I would say: “accountable government,” or “better research.”

Actually, I would probably say: “wait, what?” – I’m not as eloquent in real life without a text editor.

Also, a hero of mine, Ben Goldacre, wrote about care.data, pointing out that this data could absolutely save lives.

We learn how to save lives by studying huge datasets on the medical histories of millions of people. This information helps us identify the causes of cancer and heart disease; it helps us to spot side-effects from beneficial treatments, and switch patients to the safest drugs; it helps us spot failing hospitals, or rubbish surgeons; and it helps us spot the areas of greatest need in the NHS.

He highlights some of my conflict by saying that there are problems with the way the scheme has been launched, and it hasn’t taken into consideration the concerns we have about privacy, security and access. Dr. Goldacre concludes that we should watch and wait before opting out.

But I have decided to opt out of care.data, and tweeted about it quite strongly.

This is why.

They haven’t told me enough about who gets access to my private, medical information.

All the information you need to make your decision about whether you want to opt out of care.data is in a leaflet (link to pdf). And it says:

We will use information such as your postcode and NHS number to link your records from these different places. Records are linked in a secure system so your identity is protected.

Then, it says:

We sometimes release confidential information to approved researchers, if this is allowed by law and meets the strict rules that are in place to protect your privacy.

So, wait: Who are these researchers? When has this happened in the past? Who are the researchers you have in mind for the future? If I find out you’ve sold a bunch of care.data to a private company, will I be able to opt out then?

It doesn’t say.

In other news, The NHS sold health record information to a big insurance company.

Dr. Goldacre talks about health insurance concerns with care.data being a bit of a red herring. If you have private health insurance, you give them access to your records anyway. Right, but this is a different kettle of herring. I don’t trust the NHS not to sell this data to companies who exist to make a profit – because that is a fundamental conflict of interest. I don’t have a problem giving my own medical insurer (disclosure: I haven’t got any private health insurance) my medical history. But I do have a problem giving an unknown corporation access to my info.

Care.data risks are not laid out.

Information will be “pseudonymised,” which means that each record will be given a fake name. So Joe Bloggs will have the same medical history as me, but won’t be called Zach.

But, pseudonymised data has risks (read about inference attacks). It is possible (and it’s been done) to work out the link between a pseudo-human and a real person.

I also wonder what the leaflet says it will do to make sure the data is securely stored. Hmm…

We are very careful with the information and we follow strict rules about how it is stored and used, and have a thorough process that must be followed before any information can be shared.

Oh, that’s fine then. They promise to be careful with it.

So, I have a quick search for “NHS data leak.” What I find is story after story of bad things done with data by the NHS.

Is this a fair assessment? No. It’s a search of news stories using a leading query. Sorry. But I want to know about this. I want to know how the NHS will keep care.data safe, secure and out of the hands of unknown people.

From the way I understand it, the risks of data breaches or inference attacks tend to be small for most individuals. But they are not covered by the NHS Leaflet.

Opting out is the only stone I have to throw, isn’t it?

I want the NHS to look at its data more thoroughly. I want them to be able to do deep, important meta-analyses on health records, outcomes and practices. I want them to save lives through data.

But I don’t trust the way they’ve set up this scheme, and there doesn’t seem to be a better option than to opt out.

The scheme to put the data online has been delayed for 6 months, following criticism from some important bodies (like The Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association and patient watchdog Healthwatch England).

Dr. Goldacre asks us to hold fire on opting out. Wait until closer to the time, and see what happens. But I’m not a GP (Ben is), I’m not a columnist (ditto), nor am I a member of a watchdog (I don’t think owning a spaniel counts, right?) I feel that my opt-out is as close to a protest vote as I’ve got.

Alongside this, a lot of people will forget to re-open the issue in 6 months. People collectively forget things – even important things. I think waiting is a bad idea because of this.

So, I used Fax Your GP to opt out.

Update, it looks like Ben Goldacre thinks it’s too much of a mess now.

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Blog Digital Featured

Media Temple was great, but No to GoDaddy

Media Temple (mt) have looked after this site’s hosting superbly. They handled problems (all of which were down to user error) promptly and with a bit of extra care. Under almost all circumstances, I support companies who work hard for their customers’ loyalty. But, they were bought by GoDaddy.

GoDaddy has an impressive reputation for chauvinism, playing on stereotypes, and generally mocking people.

No, seriously:

and…

(video has since been deleted, but you can search YouTube for GoDaddy commercials to get the gist.)

I think you get the picture. In fact, sorry for the pictures. I feel dirty having them on my site, and I feel worse thinking that my hosting money would be supporting such a company.

More troublingly, GoDaddy played a big role in supporting SOPA. Yes, they backed down, and stopped their support… eventually. But that’s a big mark against any company.

(mt) were quick to point out, on Twitter, that they’ve taken the acquisition seriously – that GoDaddy has reinvented itself. Maybe they have; maybe they will. But they’re the same company, and they make me feel sick.

Their FAQs point out the reasons they went along, and say they’ll stay an independent, autonomous company. I wish them the best, but no. Between casual chauvinism, mocking “nerds”, and generally seeking profit above freedom – it was an easy decision to make.

Honestly, I didn’t feel there was a decision to make except on finding a new host.

For now, I’ve moved my online property over to UK-based TSOHost, on the recommendation of quite a few twitter friends. They migrated my site and domain on the same day, and seem pretty clued up on support so far. I have a few remaining domain names with (mt), one of which – mentaldemocracy.com – I might sell. The rest, I’ll either transfer over next week, or simply wind them up.

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Blog Featured

This is the shape the wood wants to be

photo of a green-carved kuksaBirch smells amazing while it’s still green.

It is easier than I thought, shaping half a log into a bowl. It is harder than I thought possible to finish a simple curve with a straight blade.

Countless generations have carved necessary items out of wood. It was the material to hand, and a few good blades with a couple flat stones could be found in even the poorest houses. There is a certain feeling of chicanery in making decorative objects out of waste wood. Is my use of spare time and making a hobby out of spoons a mockery of my ancestors’ need?

But I can think when my hands are busy. My fingers learn through the strokes and grips, and I can see the object in a block before picking up the axe.

I say things like: “This is the shape the wood wanted to be.”

It’s foolishness, but I know what I meant. It’s hard to express in words on a screen — my non-hobby, necessary job — the essence of something my eyes and hands have learned as my mouth and keyboard are silent.

Pushing and pulling steel through bits of tree gives me space to think and just be still.

This post originally appeared on medium.com

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Featured Perspective

When I just can’t, Just Type

This spring has been an interesting season. Often, I put words up on a screen to make my thoughts make sense. If I can organise the paragraphs into something resembling a coherent piece of writing, maybe my own plans and priorities can follow.

I use a tumblr blog for many of these unpolished pieces, and I give myself a simple rule: Just Type.

I allow for correcting misspellings, and a light pass for punctuation, but I don’t allow myself the chance to edit the actual content. If it’s potentially libellous or too personal: it’s deleted.

Today, I couldn’t even just type. I couldn’t organise my thoughts into words.

Screenshot of iA Writer Zen ModeI did manage to procrastinate, and create an automated workflow for my Mac. From now on, whenever I feel ready to just type, I press: ⇧ ⌘ J. I am greeted with the beautiful iA Writer‘s Zen Mode asking me to “Just Type.”

It’s a simple Alfred 2 workflow I’ve made available on github. It’s a hotkey and AppleScript, which opens iA Writer, inserts the text “Just Type,” and puts iA into Zen mode, giving me a big, blank space to type into.

The Workflow is only two steps, and it’s trivial to change the hotkey. By modifying the AppleScript, it would also be very simple to change the application, the prompt text, and the zen-mode.

So, instead of trying to organise my thoughts, I organised a few files on my hard drive and pushed them to github.

If you’re interested, the AppleScript goes: