dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Is the Earth’s Largest Living Organism Here in Oregon? Maybe

December 26th, 2019 by dk
Respond

Scientists believe the planet’s largest living organism lives in eastern Oregon. It’s not Bigfoot, but that was a good guess. It’s a mushroom, or a fungus that’s related to the mushrooms you buy in the grocery store. It covers approximately 2,500 acres in the soil of Oregon’s Blue Mountains.

Nobody knows exactly how old this giant Armillaria ostoyae is, but guesses range from 2,500 to 9,000 years old. That would make it both larger and older than any other living organism. The mycelium is essentially a network, but all its tendrils share the same DNA fingerprint. (Yes, apparently you can have a fingerprint without having a finger.)

Tom Volk, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, explained what constitutes an organism to Scientific American this way: “It’s one set of genetically identical cells that are in communication with one another that have a sort of common purpose or at least can coordinate themselves to do something.”

I would never get into an academic argument with a tenured biological scientist. I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. But I can think of a living organism that almost fits Volk’s definition, is definitely larger than our local hero mushroom, and is nearly as old.

Thebes, Egypt has been a continuously populated city for about 5,000 years. The oldest and largest organism I am proposing here is not in Thebes. It’s not near Thebes. It is Thebes. Cells have been in communication for common and coordinated purposes since 3,200 BC. It covers approximately 36 square miles — nine times larger than our fungus neighbor.

We can quibble about whether a city actually qualifies to be considered a single organism, but I’m suggesting Eugene should start thinking of itself that way. We haven’t been a city very long — about three years, by my calculations. (http://www.dksez.com/greater-greater-eugene/) And so it’s completely understandable that we might not yet be familiar with a city’s common and coordinated ways.

When you live away from a city, you can keep to yourself and so can your neighbors. Any interactions are purely voluntary. But when things start to get crowded and complex, suddenly every action has a reaction that may affect somebody else.

Suddenly, we’re all in this together, having to coordinate our ways. We start timing our shopping trips to avoid traffic. We turn right three times, because turning left is difficult. We wait for others who are ahead of us, or hurry because of the line behind us. It’s only after we see these inconveniences are unavoidable that we begin to shed the stress they can cause.

We become more tolerant of others, because they are flesh and blood beside us, not dismissible abstractions. Time becomes more fluid, because nobody has complete control of their journey. (As if we ever did.) More people lead to more options. Life gets richer.

Try thinking about it that way when you find yourself fighting for a parking place at Trader Joe’s, when all you wanted to do was rush in and buy a package of mushrooms.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Understanding Poor Mike Bloomberg

December 26th, 2019 by dk
Respond

Nobody understands poor Mike Bloomberg. He’s running the least conventional campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination since Jesse Jackson’s rainbow coalition in 1984. He appears ready to skip the early contests that regular candidates rely upon for momentum and publicity. No other candidate can afford to do that, but there’s very little that poor Mike Bloomberg cannot afford.

People don’t understand his strategy to win. They don’t understand what motivates him. But mostly, they don’t understand exactly how rich he is. For most people $55 billion sounds like a lot of money, but few can conceptualize it.

Imagine if every man, woman and child in Springfield woke up tomorrow to news that a million dollars had been placed in their bank account or under their pillow the night before. There could be a Springfield full of millionaires if Bloomberg decided to divide his riches that way.

It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Now roll all of 97477’s new wealth together into one not-very-large New York businessman. Meet Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg decided years ago to stop President Donald Trump’s reelection. But how? He wanted to run for president himself, but only if he saw a path to victory. History showed him that third-party candidates never win. So he began bankrolling local and national candidates who back his policy preferences, and who might not win without his help.

Then came the surprise. Joe Biden couldn’t get enough traction to clear the field ahead of him. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders showed more staying power than anticipated. The field of candidates did not winnow as quickly as people expected.

It’s too early to make predictions, but no one will be surprised if the primary season’s first four contests choose four different candidates. What happens if Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina each registers a different first choice? In a word, chaos. It’s never happened before.

Three days later comes Super Tuesday, which now includes California. A total of 1,345 delegates will be chosen on March 3 — exactly two-thirds of the total number needed to secure the Democratic nomination. Bloomberg’s path to victory doesn’t require him to win most of those delegates — so long as no one else does either.

If Democrats arrive in Milwaukee on July 13, 2020 without a candidate who has won the required minimum of 2,024 pledged delegates, there will be a brokered convention. That’s where Bloomberg’s gambit could pay off.

He’s leaving money behind for local Democratic candidates and party operatives everywhere he goes. Many of those beneficiaries will arrive in Wisconsin as so-called superdelegates. They won’t be voting on the first ballot this time, because Hillary Clinton’s 2016 advantage among them was seen in retrospect as unseemly.

Superdelegates will be free to vote on the second ballot, and none of the delegates will be bound by their state’s election results. Many will feel beholden to one candidates who has shown a willingness to provide funding for their down-ballot candidates and Get Out The Vote initiatives.

No one can afford to dismiss the influence poor Mike Bloomberg’s money could have.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Join us for the Third Annual Outdoor Singalong — This Saturday

December 13th, 2019 by dk
Respond

The most important part of your house is your front door. Thanks to that slab on hinges, you get to decide what stays in and what goes out. Everything else in your house is like the middle of a toothpick. It has good reason to be there, but it’s not really the point.

Once somebody passes through your doorway, all the rules change. If they are invited guests, the host’s generosity kicks into high gear. “Let me take your hat and coat.” “Can I get you something to drink?” “What sort of music do you like?”

If, on the other hand, that person has not been invited in, they instantly become an intruder, a criminal, a threat. We rely on that front door to delineate this difference. Knowing who’s in and who’s out is a huge part of feeling safe in the world.

Now imagine your life with nothing removed but that front door. You’d have no way to keep your heat in and strangers out. Everything you consider yours would be yours only on an interim basis. Whatever hasn’t already been taken still could be, if you don’t remain constantly vigilant, including while you sleep. Every day. All the time.

If the unhoused you see on the street or in the library seem exhausted to you, this is a big part of it. Even during moments of relative calm when they feel safe, they can’t be sure their stuff is.

Community Supported Shelters decided to tackle this challenge of homelessness in an unconventional way. In my mind, their Conestoga Huts have pushed the boundary for housing in an important new direction. They provide residents with a front door — and very little else. They’ve shaved most of the middle out of the toothpick.

Inside, there’s room for a bed and maybe a dresser. There’s no water or electricity. There’s no heat, but blankets stay dry with a roof made of PVC pipe and plastic sheeting. Each structure costs less than $3,000 to build, using common materials and basic tools. For some people, for a while, this pre-housing option is enough.

Would you like to see how they are used and meet some people living in them? You’re in luck.

There’s no better use for a front door than to swing it open, inviting others in. For the third year, this Saturday evening, Nightingale Hosted Shelters at 3500 Hilyard Street in south Eugene will host a drop-in holiday singalong around a fire kettle in their parking lot. Hot chocolate and music sheets will be provided, but everything else will come from those who show up. I can say from past experience, there’s always enough.

This rest stop for the unhoused has grown from six to 20 huts over the past few years. More importantly, the residents have become a community, supporting one another and reaching out to neighbors.

Come exchange cookies and stories, between 5 PM and 7 PM tomorrow night. Take a tour of the huts. Donate some woolen socks if you’d like. Dress for the weather. Enjoy neighborliness and neighbors. I guarantee you’ll return home, loving your front door like never before.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Holiday FUFFery

November 27th, 2019 by dk
Respond

Fifth Friday footnotes, follow-ups and far-flung fripperies:

  • Combat the commercialization of this season by throwing a holiday party right away that doesn’t include commercialization. If enough of us do it, the shopping aspect will lose its dominance.
  • Here’s a conversation starter as you gather around leftovers this weekend: What’s one thing you’ve never regretted paying extra for?
  • Thanksgiving is uniquely American, but the whole world knows and observes Black Friday. Hmm.
  • The diameter of toilet paper’s cardboard insert varies by country.
  • Notice how often liberal columnists begin a paragraph (usually about two-thirds in) with “to be fair” or “in fairness,” followed by exceptions to their point or other nuances. Now notice that conservative columnists almost never do that.
  • Remember pagers?
  • Is it too late for Eugene to buy back jurisdiction over Glenwood? Former Mayor Sid Leiken always called that deal Springfield’s Louisiana Purchase, but it’s looking more and more like an earlier land deal — trading $23 worth of beads for Manhattan.
  • Flat screens have changed our world. Imagine if every screen you see today still required a heavy and possibly toxic canister behind it.
  • The human body is defenseless against liquids, excepting the one that mostly constitutes it. (Water)
  • Could LTD’s downtown EmGo shuttle be linked with Park & Ride lots for those who commute downtown daily?
  • Not counting homelessness as a cause of death makes no sense. It’s like saying a person died from a fall, when their parachute failed. Stepping out the door with nothing in your bag is not considered dangerous, unless you’re skydiving.
  • Human progress stopped when cooks began requiring multiple pots and pans.
  • Will urbanites lose the competitive advantage that comes from seeing and meeting strangers? Everyone now is constantly on their phone, ignoring those around them.
  • Don’t leave well enough alone.
  • How much quid could a quid pro quo if a quid quo did go pro?
  • When you know what you know backwards and forward, you wonk what you know and you know what you wonk.
  • Our generation gave the world “leading zeroes.” So there’s that.
  • Then and now occasionally have nothing to do with each other, but only now and then.
  • I thought people were addicted to certainty, but now I believe it’s determinism that traps people in their comfort. If nothing could be different, then everything must be OK.
  • Helplessness is the closest feeling to freedom that some people ever get. Falling and flying are separated only by volition — and eventually, how it ends.
  • I predict that the clatter of suitcase wheels on tile or brick will soon be considered rude, requiring everyone to upgrade their suitcases to new ones with softer and quieter wheels.
  • Bystanding is my only shot at innocence.
  • Don’t apologize for my inconvenience. Apologize for the actions, policies or incompetencies that caused my inconvenience. Thank you.
  • In fairness, those apologizing are almost never responsible themselves for the inconvenience.
  • When did you last set out a home meal that required all three table utensils? Holiday meals, salad forks and soup spoons don’t count.
  • Hoarding in the face of scarcity is hateful.
  • Did you know that Rep. Peter DeFazio lives on a boat he bought decades ago when he first came to Washington? That’s so Peter.
  • I prefer the pronoun “they,” not because I have gender fluidity. I just like thinking of myself as more than one person.
  • Some who want to save the world need to remind us why it’s worth saving.
  • I have inhabited the margins for all of my adult life, but I’ve never been marginalized. It has always been my choice.
  • It’s time to take corporate responsibility seriously. Impound assets and limit freedom of movement, just the way the courts do for any other “person” who is caught willfully harming others.
  • Escalators in Europe slow to a crawl when there’s nobody on them. It conserves power.
  • Americans fear quicksand, but others don’t. Only Americans are trapped where more exertion makes things worse. If a soft spot in the ground slows our pace, there’s no problem.
  • Why doesn’t every coat, sweater, and jacket have a hook loop inside its collar? Payola from the coat hanger cartel, I suspect.
  • If you’ve never licked a butter knife (because you were warned against it before it had occurred to you), I recommend trying it, at least once.

==
Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

“Eat the Rich” Now Makes Sense

November 27th, 2019 by dk
Respond

Hang out with some French anarchists for a few days and you’re bound to see class warfare a little bit differently. You can find outrage at Prime Minister Francois Macron on any street corner in France, or you can wait for their anger to literally parade past you on any given Saturday. It’s going to get worse.

Macron has pushed banker-friendly “reforms” since his election in 2017, made necessary because he repealed France’s onerous wealth tax, soon after taking office. Public subsidies for education, housing, food, transportation, and heating are all being scoured in search of undiscovered “efficiencies.”

The French see the proposed changes as scurrilous imitations of American policies, but they don’t hate Americans. They hate the rich instead, and to better effect. The French people consider their national identity to be at stake, and they’d rather not lose it. A nationwide strike is planned for December 5. Christmas in Paris will not go as planned.

The conversations have been very clear. “Eat the rich.” Nothing less than despising the wealthy will keep society stable. I’ve heard this thinking many times before, but this is the first time I’ve found myself steeped in it. There’s a logic that emerges only when the observer is submerged.

The wealthy are vastly outnumbered. They give a portion of their wealth back. In return, the people agree not to storm the ramparts. In between, the government redistributes some of the wealth to keep all sides satisfied. But the economic equation doesn’t quite capture all the benefits received by the people. Joie de vivre is more than that.

American policymakers have long insisted that ambition fuels economic growth, but I haven’t heard anyone suggest that government should slow those ambitious urges for both the individual and the greater good. If we all strove to be upper middle class, but not more than that, how would that reshape our society?

Dramatically. The highpoint of the American Dream was accompanied by a 90 percent tax rate at the top. We used that money to build a nationwide highway system, affordable housing for returning veterans, and higher education opportunities for all comers.

We still had rich people around us. So does France. We considered them to be different from us. We didn’t imitate them. We didn’t pretend to be them. We didn’t envy them. We worked hard to be part of a stable middle class and then we slowed down. We took longer lunches, nicer vacations, and earlier retirements. We were satisfied.

There’s more ambition in America today than there was 50 years ago. But there’s also more drug addiction, family trauma, homelessness, obesity, and depression. For every additional billionaire produced, how much more desperation is also produced? Was that trade-off worth it?

Equality is central to the modern French identity, because they know the soil beneath them was tilled by Medieval serfs. They endured ostentation until they couldn’t. Violent rebellion ensued. Modern America was built on genocide. Modern France was built on regicide.

When the French encounter something impossibly rich, they hear the advice of their rebellious ancestors: Eat it.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Ending Library Fines is Overdue

November 27th, 2019 by dk
Respond

Springfield has decided it’s no longer in the city’s best interest to charge library fines, and now Eugene plans to follow that policy for books checked out by children. The logic behind the change is sound. Negative consequences are more likely to produce avoidance than learning, and libraries want to be first and foremost about learning.

I grew up in a different time. At my junior high school, we had an elderly librarian who was rumored to have served in World War II, and who may have been on the team that broke into Adolf Hitler’s safe after his suicide. It didn’t take long for the rumor to be addended, that she had been searching for an overdue book.

We understood the fear of God, but it was reserved for weekends. During the week, we mostly feared Miss Beck, who would shush us whenever we were having fun — which might have been why we equated her authority with that Sunday equivalent. All in all, we benefitted from the belief that we were being watched over.

When I moved my family to Eugene in 1995, we got our library cards immediately. I could immediately tell we had left New England far behind. The librarian helpfully explained to us that fines levied were not a penalty for enjoying the books for too long. The payment required simply covered the cost of mailing the reminder postcard after an item was overdue.

I accepted responsibility for keeping my young boys in check, deducting any “postcard reminder” fees from their weekly allowance. Additionally, I made darn sure that none of those dreaded postcards ever arrived at our house with my name on it. My wife wasn’t as careful and our marriage didn’t survive. You can draw your own conclusions. She did.

Training that’s rooted in fear is never as deep as we believe. Maybe we should push harder to find the positive reinforcements that shape behavior more reliably. Could librarians give stickers to those who return things on time. You might laugh, but “I voted” stickers work on adults.

I served a term or two on the Eugene Public Library Foundation’s board, and one of the perks we were offered was an exemption from library fines. I don’t know if that policy has changed, but I can tell you for certain that the policy changed me, and not for the better. It’s best if we just leave it at that.

I’m all for removing punishments from institutional forces in an effort to improve the population. The science is sound that these efforts work only as long as they are reinforced. Remove the consequence, and the bad habit immediately returns — even for a 40-something volunteer board member.

Should we wish to live in a world without consequences? Just now, I typed one of the words in the previous sentence with one too few consonants. If it had been the word that preceded it, this paragraph might have required an editor’s keen eye, because my automatic spell checker would have missed it — a word without consequences.

We need to experience consequences, because copy editors, librarians, and weekend deity figures can’t be everywhere.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Warning: Impeachment Will Do Nothing

November 27th, 2019 by dk
Respond

Puritans can’t dance. What’s worse is that you can’t even teach them to dance, because they fear for their souls. Understanding a series of steps might lead to some worldly satisfaction. That’s a risk that many Americans, however far from those New England roots, won’t take.

We’ve been watching some important two-step moves in the news lately. Those moves are too complicated to rouse the rabble. For example, no protest sign ever has called for what’s actually needed to remove a president from the White House.

“Impeach, then Convict” just doesn’t have an attractive rhythm to it. Impeachment alone won’t do the job. You probably understand this, because you are steeped in political news, as only a newspaper reader can be these days. But do others get it?

Our Constitution requires the U.S. House of Representatives to determine whether the president has disqualified himself by “high crimes or misdemeanors.” You understand this is purely a political question, only roughly similar to a criminal indictment.

And you understand that impeachment is then passed to a trial in the U.S. Senate, where a two-thirds majority is required to convict. (Instructively, Bill Clinton was impeached, but not convicted, allowing him to complete his second term.)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell makes the rules for how the Senate will stage (that’s the right word) a trial for any defendant indicted by the House. He will determine who can be called to testify, under what rules, questioned by whom and for how long.

Long story short, there will be no conviction unless 20 Republicans break ranks and vote to convict, or 30 Republicans suddenly become too sick or distracted to attend the final vote, allowing Democrats to prevail with two-thirds of those present.

Brace yourself for widespread disappointment when protesters learn that the solution on their signs will not suffice. We may soon see an impeached president running for reelection for the first time. But even if he loses and leaves the office peaceably in 2021, there may be further disappointment ahead.

Candidates are barnstorming the country, promising to make people’s lives better. They almost never acknowledge the extra steps required to implement their solutions. Winning an election doesn’t guarantee free college or better health care or a cleaner environment or really almost anything else. It’s just not that simple.

Our system doesn’t allow the president the power to tax. They can advocate for a wealth tax, or higher marginal rates, or larger earned income credits, or a “freedom dividend” of $1,000 per month.

But none of those become law unless passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Constitution requires all funding actions to begin. It’s called “the power of the purse strings.” If it costs money, the House must approve.

Will a majority in the House approve the financial maneuvers endorsed by some current presidential candidates? Will the Senate affirm those changes? Those two steps must precede any presidential action.

A candidate’s signature move may look good at a campaign rally. But nothing happens unless other feet start moving to make the dance.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Universal Coverage Might Start Here

November 27th, 2019 by dk
Respond

The Eugene City Council met late last month to evaluate a pilot project that has been underway for more than a year. The results are startling — recipients are delighted to be receiving better services, costing them less money. Councilors asked city staff for a proposal for expanding the benefit to all Eugene residents.

If we’ve learned one thing about universal coverage over the last decade, it’s that it can be accomplished most efficiently if the users are willing to embrace a “single payer” model. That elicits some resistance when it comes to health care, but what about for ultra-high speed Internet?

Eugene’s downtown core has seen a resurgence since ultra-high speed Internet became available. What will happen if it’s offered citywide?

Unlike almost every issue Eugene encounters — I’m looking at you, city hall! — leaders should settle first on the funding source and then develop a plan that fits the revenue stream they intend to tap.

What’s working elsewhere? Councilors might like Ashland’s restaurant tax because it’s paid mostly by out-of-towners and the well-heeled amongst us. A utility tax could work, they are already collecting so much revenue for the city, they could feel targeted.

What about a property tax assessment? The expense would have to be absorbed by homeowners and passed on to renters, but would the added value exceed the expense, once there was no need to pay for cable TV and Internet connectivity?

Many of us have started to “cut the cord” on TV and phone. Would we be happy to ditch our Internet provider for a faster connection that comes automatically to every building in Eugene?

No other city our size provides high-speed Internet to every resident, but is there any good reason for that? A hundred years ago, homeowners could choose whether they wanted running water and indoor plumbing, but no more. We may look back and wonder what took us so long to see this connectivity as similarly essential.

Your house is worth more because it’s connected to running water and maintained sewer systems. Think of gigabyte-speed Internet connectivity the same way. We could all cancel our current Internet provider for a citywide service that’s faster and cheaper.

Single-payer, universal coverage may be just what people want, if only we hadn’t introduced the concept first around medical care.

We love our doctor, because they warn us that the stethoscope might feel cold against own skin. They don’t take our call, but their staff sets up an appointment, so that’s almost as good. Our doctor doesn’t laugh when they see us naked, even though we don’t have a joint checking account. They’re there for us.

Who among us can say the same about their Internet provider? Sure, they make house calls, but that’s because their service is connected to our house!

Once we see that our local government can provide us better service at lower cost for something like Internet connectivity, we might be more willing to trust the state and national government to have a greater hand in providing other essential services, like health care.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Oregon Democrats Should Meddle More

November 27th, 2019 by dk
Respond

Oregon is a blue state. All but one of our Congresspeople are Democrats. Every statewide elected office is held by a Democrat, except one. The state hasn’t given its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate in decades. Our state legislature is solidly Democrat in both chambers. When it comes to statewide policies, Democrats are in control.

So answer me this. Why is the state’s deadline for property tax bills to be mailed to homeowners so close to when November ballots arrive? Since the mail contains so few surprises for most of us anymore, why would Democrats put ballots in people’s hands when sticker shock on their year-end tax bill is still fresh?

Anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore couldn’t have come up with a more devious plan, unless he wrote an initiative requiring local governments to save on postage by putting the November ballot and the tax bill in the same envelope.

My property tax bill in Connecticut came in the summer, to be paid in two installments — one in July and one in December. A quick survey of other states’ practices found property tax bills are mailed often in the spring or summer, or earlier in the fall. Oregon’s timetable is not unique, but it also could be changed.

Property taxes are different from other taxes, at least for some. Income taxes are typically withheld from weekly paychecks. Business owners usually make estimated quarterly payments throughout the year. April 15 represents mostly a dreaded paperwork deadline and not much more. Other taxes are paid with every purchase (gas) or every month (utilities).

Only property taxes cause true sticker shock, especially for the elderly. If you’re paying a mortgage, your property taxes are rolled into your monthly payments. But if your house is paid off, you’re reminded once a year that no, actually, it’s not paid off entirely. Leave your property taxes unpaid for too long, and it won’t be your house anymore.

As Sen. Elizabeth Warren says on the presidential campaign trail, property taxes are the wealth tax America already has. Good for us.

I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why October 25 is the mandated issuing deadline in Oregon. I’m sure those reasons have to do with fiscal responsibility, measured workflows, and general good governance. But none of those reasons involve the political impact of the practice.

Republicans play the game differently — or they are playing a different game altogether. They couldn’t stop Obamacare’s implementation, but they did manage to require the next year’s insurance premium increases to be announced by late October, so voters would be mad before they voted in November.

Oregon’s Democratic majorities are robust, so they are shielded from most of this timing tomfoolery. But that’s no comfort to a school board with an urgent bond measure, wary of the voters’ mood in November. Or to any politician running a tight race against an anti-tax candidate.

Oregon’s Democratic leaders should rearrange the state’s taxing calendar so it doesn’t align so closely with its electoral calendar. If they don’t address it while their majorities are comfortable, those majorities may not last.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.

Targeting Micro-Targeting

November 27th, 2019 by dk
Respond

“This really is not about money,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted during a televised House hearing last month. “It is important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying.”

Yeah, let’s go with that.

The House hearing was televised for the same reason. People should see for themselves what politicians and business leaders are saying, so they can discuss these things with those around them. Our Founding Fathers’ keenest insight centered on the public square, protecting speech and assembly for the people.

Zuckerberg points out that only a tiny sliver of Facebook’s revenue — less than one percent — comes from political advertising, so he’s correct that it’s not about money. So what is our current dilemma about, exactly? It’s about micro-targeting, and whether surveillance capitalism is compatible with our democratic ideals.

Facebook and others have traded the public square for the private corner. Three people in a room watching those House hearings on television saw the same ads. Three people in a room looking at their phones could be seeing three different sets of ads, fed from the same site. The issue is not whether people can see what advertising politicians are saying, but how completely those ads can be hidden from others.

Websites and apps can now deliver advertising messages with frightening precision. What can we do?

Ban micro-targeting, or tax it. We still have a chance to do something about this, before our economy and society have reshaped themselves. Our doorbells, our cars , and our refrigerators have begun collecting data on us. It won’t stop or slow unless we do something.

Our individual dossiers are built, bought and traded for only one purpose — to sell us stuff. Political ads are designed to sell us on candidates or issues, but they are really no different from other ads. They represent the tip of the spear, and that spear is aimed at the heart of our republic — the public square, the general welfare, the common ground.

We can’t care about the same things if we don’t know about the same things. Micro-targeting must be stopped or slowed, giving society time to adapt. But how?

Start with the broadcast model. Allow advertisers to focus only their geographic reach. Ban the use of demographic or psychographic profiles. Everyone in the same room would again see the same messages. Websites and apps that don’t abide by these rules will be easily caught.

Or add a label to ads that identifies the number of limiters used for targeting. Charge a small tax on each limiter. You want to sell your razors to anyone who wants them? No extra tax. But you want your eco-friendly safety razor advertised only to young men in big cities who buy diapers, granola, a new Prius every three years? That’ll cost extra.

Remember: “It’s not really about money” — right?

By the way, politicians can show their good faith in restoring “common” to the common good by ending micro-targeting in their own realm. All public political rallies should welcome all comers — no tickets or registration required. This will solve the problem Facebook represents.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments.