Twitter Twitter Toil and Trouble?

Can Twitter, along with other similar programs, lull us into thinking we know others? If one thinks of it, the idea of texting or emailing your daily activities in order to share them with others does sound fun. And too it speaks of a new idea about privacy. Privacy no longer involves a touch of secrecy, but discernment about who is entitled to know about us and what it is they are to know. In that the whole movement–I don’t think that’s the wrong word–begun with Facebook and MySpace and continuing with innovations like Twitter has made us rethink our concept of what is private and what privacy means all the while bringing a contribution to a popular culture too often relying on hiding facts, spinning them, or distorting them. Celebrities do it and politicians are very good at it.
But there’s another side to the Twitter phenomenon, one that I truly wonder is as much of a contribution. In fact, I wonder if it could be or become a problem. Is knowing people through the lens of daily activities or moods entered in bits and pieces really knowing them? True, I am over 30 and my perspective on the world includes the pre-personal computer world. But some realities are beyond generations, they exist–albeit I grant in modified versions–regardless of how old one is. Knowing someone is such a reality. I can know that my friend Sylvia walks her dog, drives to Santa Barbara, talks to her friend Susan everyday or drinks wine with dinner, but what does that tell me about her? What makes Sylvia special, how does she cope with adversity, what is she working towards, how has she grown over time, what has she learned from living? In short the kind of questions that would help me see, reach, touch her core, her inner self. It seems to me if we want to Twitter and know the surface of people’s lives, that’s fine so long as we don’t fool ourselves that we really know them. That’s much more involved.
And there’s something else that puzzles at me about Twitter: the time it takes to input activities. Personally, I can think of a lot I would rather do at a computer screen.

Compassion by The Glass

How a Lowly paid worker tickled my compassion bone and taught me a lesson—My door was ajar for some reason and as often happens in ours and many neighborhoods, a man whose dark skin and features told me his ancestors were Indians from South America, was distributing restaurant ads and take out menus. Upon seeing me at my computer, he said, “Aqua, aqua.” “Do you want water?” I asked in English, not quite sure I ought to answer. There are many such workers, and never before had anyone asked for water. Why was he? “Si,” he answered. It was a small thing. I went to the refrigerator to get him a tall glass of water. As I handed it to him, he tried to hand me a folded bill, presumably a dollar. I told him no of course all the while feeling less than the proverbial two cents. Something about his action, about seeing that he didn’t even expect a glass of water for nothing, about his generosity, his honesty, brought me back to a more realistic perspective. He drank his water avidly, all in a gulp almost, and handed me the glass back while I realized how small minded I had been.
Big city living with all its risks and dangers makes us forget simple human impulses, of asking, giving, sharing. I had been suspicious first, instead of being open-hearted first. The other lesson was an equal tug at my conscience, how quick I was to forget how hard the lives of some workers are. Walking door to door delivering ads, at best being paid minimum wage, is a merciless, difficult work. And when I think of the thousands of such men and women whose work is just as merciless in whatever way, then I am truly humbled.

Instead of Student Loans

The number of students and families who have taken out education loans has spiked over the last few years. The number of loans taken out from private institutions has spiked even more. Student loans are serious business not only in terms of how many there are (even Sallie Mae has been one of the nation’s largest student lender) but also in other ways. Student loans are usually not written off under bankruptcy laws, the way credit card debts can be, for example. They are very difficult to shake, and in most cases aren’t at all. A reader might say a student loan is a debt like any other an ought to be repaid, and that is true. An yet in light of emerging evidence it seems very harsh. Student loans can eat up an undue share of a working person’s salary. They can go on for years and years making it difficult for an individual to buy a home, take vacations, or buy a better car. Because monthly payments can be large in relations to salaries, repayment has turned out to be difficult for most, and for whatever reason they have kept quiet. Alan Collinge has stopped being quiet, for years he has run a website to describe his struggles and what he’s trying to do about it. In 2007 he founded a political action committee with the same name in order to better fight for a change in bankruptcy laws. He advocates limits on how and for how long lenders can pursue debtors. It is a change obviously opposed by institutions like Sallie Mae and others who are able to profit from these loans.
Congress is often asked to intervene and pass new laws that will be fairer to students. Other efforts revolve around making it easier to borrow money. But is that the right approach?
When one considers that the students who need loans to either obtain or pursue their education come from either the lower or middle class, the issue of equality does factor in. Is the focus on loans the right emphasis? Oughtn’t it to be on affordable education? Not that long ago, the percentage of those borrowing for an education was quite small. Over the decades it has steadily increased in order to keep up with the increase in the costs of colleges and universities. While the institutions have made a case for their increases, the consequences of such high costs are not confronted. If we seriously tackled these consequences, if we resolved to ease them, to lessen the disparity they create, then we might be able to see more clearly about what to do with or about student loans. For one thing they wouldn’t be as numerous, and while that may not suit the short term interest of certain private firms, it may strengthen the educational framework and make us a stronger nation in the long run.

Human Trafficking v. Smuggling

August 23rd is an anniversary. In 1791 riots took place in Saint Domingue, today’s Haiti, which are said to have launched the abolitionist movement against slavery. While slavery as a legal institution no longer exists, it is not dead and 217 years later it thrives under the practices of human trafficking and smuggling. There is general consensus that trafficking is evil, smuggling is seen as being less so. To an observer like me, there isn’t much difference between the two, yet what does distinguish them is creating a snag in legislating further measures, in knowing what laws to apply when arresting suspects or when taking action against alleged perpetrators. The U.S.has been very active in the fight against human trafficking. For the past 8 years it has been mandated by law to engage in a many fronted struggle at home an abroad. While there are some in Washington who believe efforts should escalate, there inevitably are those who disagree. But the greater problem comes from the Council of Europe convention on trafficking. It went into force this year and 17 countries ratified it, yet it has now stalled because not everyone can agree on the difference between trafficking and smuggling. Smuggling implies consent in some cases, although how informed that consent is is moot, and some say it may not be given were the conditions awaiting the individuals really known. Some smuggled people have their passports taken aways, are paid much lower wages than promised and are forced to work under harsh conditions. Meanwhile, as the war of semantics continues, laws and enforcement are not as strong as they need to be. And yet, one must recognize that as long as trafficking and smuggling are understood as problems, then progress is possible.