Saturday, March 31, 2012

Socially Unacceptable

So the other day I'm flipping through some NPR stories and come across one titled, 'Employers Ask Job Seekers For Facebook Passwords'. Unlike some stories where the sensational headline turns out to be, well . . . sensational, this one was dead on. Apparently requests for access to your Facebook account by prospective employers have become more common lately, especially, though not exclusively, in law enforcement areas.

This floored me! I tried to imagine the cojones it would take for an interviewer to ask for your ID and password. This goes way beyond just poking around your public profile, and while I'm not thrilled at that, at least it is your PUBLIC social life. But this is actually asking to be given full access to poke around in your private life. It's understandable that an employer would want to know as much about you as they could, but there are limits. Or at least there should be! In fact there are questions that are illegal to ask directly, for general employment, such as national origin, marital status, religion or sexual orientation. Now consider how many of those off-limits questions would be quickly answered with only a few minutes perusal of your private social profile? Most, if not all of them, right?

Now some places apparently go for the softer approach and just ask you to login for them, during the interview. Sort of like a neighbor asking to be let into your house and then wandering around to look through your drawers, cabinets and receipts. The other 'soft' approach is to ask you to 'Friend' an HR account. Now this sounds a little less invasive at first, but not if you really think about it. After all, even those who have locked down their privacy settings usually continue to allow their Friends to have access to their profiles. So, in effect they get pretty much the same access.

I read several articles on this subject and none of them noted a very insidious side to this. Consider this, if they log in as you, they also get pretty much full access to ALL your online friends' info as well. So if you give up your login, for all functional purposes you are also giving up your friends' at the same time. Imagine if a friend of yours works at this company and clued you in about the open position. When you give HR your login, you have now allowed them to poke through your friend's profile without his consent or even knowledge. Even if you only Friend HR, they will still have significant access to the private info on all of your friends.

So what is the possible justification for this invasion of privacy? Twenty years ago employers got along just fine with the usual sources of info such as personal & professional references, previous employer contacts and your interview. So it's not as if they have less info than before, and in fact, with public online sources they have far more info than they ever had in the past. So what gives them any right to ask for still more? What's next, the keys to my apartment? Password to my email accounts? A tap on my phone calls? We are applying for a job, not indentured servitude! This is obviously one of those times when technology has outpaced the law. Since it's not technically illegal, companies will ask. And while it may be considered voluntary, in a tight job market, is it . . . really? If you've been out of work for months, or even longer, can you afford to stand on principle and say no? Sure, they may tell you that refusing won't affect your chances, but can you be sure?

This is a clear overreach by employers, in my opinion. Because there is more info out there than in the past, some companies feel justified in trying to get at it, even if it supposed to be private. And that's why we have privacy protections. We need them to limit how deeply an employer can dig and restricts information that the employer has no right or need to know. Incidentally, Democrats in the House of Representatives attempted to add a provision to a bill last week that would have let the FCC restrict employers from asking for this sort of access. It was soundly defeated. So, at least for now, we are left to ponder this very disturbing trend.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

We all have our own particular views and they are certainly not going to be in step with everyone else's. However, there is a point where a viewpoint departs so far from reality that it does no one any good. Case in point is a recent post on the American Thinker blog titled, 'Fluke and Liberals' Bodyguard of Lies'. It touches on the uproar over the contraceptives debate (it is 2012, right?) and the Congressional testimony of Sandra Fluke. As you probably know by now, she's the Georgetown law student that Rush Limbaugh raked over the coals, on-air, for three straight days a few weeks ago. Picking and choosing his words in such a way as to belittle and insult her in every way he could, including referring to her as a 'slut' and a 'prostitute', among others. I had some warning of the kind of piece it was, but wanted to read it anyway. Either I have an insatiable curiosity for the views of others or I'm a glutton for punishment. Probably a little of both. The American Thinker article was indeed pretty eye opening and my amazement, and irritation if I'm to be honest, began with the second sentence, which summed up the author's bias, misinterpretations and a complete misunderstanding of what a Liberal actually is.

"Because liberals are at war with American society and their true beliefs are repugnant to most Americans, liberals constantly conceal the truth of their beliefs with sweet-sounding lies."

I don't know about you, but my first thought was, "Wow!" There is so much wrong with that one sentence that it's difficult to even know where to start. Most surprising to me is that the author obviously, truly believes this. But it's just so . . . out there. When I look for an example of a fringy, right wing, through the looking glass mind set, this would be exhibit 'A'. I give him credit for stepping off with vim and vigor. None whatsoever for accuracy or critical thinking, but boy does he have the unwavering, absolutist swagger down to a 'T'!

I won't play point, counterpoint with the entire post, though believe me I would dearly love to. To be fair to the author, I give him props for imaginative use of rarely utilized metaphors and historical personalities. I mean, really, when was the last time you read something that called out Nietzsche, Caligula or Quetzalcoatl, much less all of them?! Though, to be a bit critical, these and other historical references felt rather forced. More a way to show how well read he was than to actually illustrate or illuminate his point. As such, you will also find references to Communism, Nazis, Roman Emperors, 'true evil' and other pointless and silly hyperbolic statements.

One of the points that the author harps on incessantly, in his aforementioned wild and historically mismatched way, is that it's wrong to require religiously associated, public institutions to offer insurance coverage to their employees that goes against a religious belief of the institution. Specifically that Catholic hospitals and universities shouldn't have to offer contraception coverage for their employees. This is utter, one dimensional nonsense! It only makes any sense at all if these are closed institutions that hire ONLY devout Catholics. Otherwise it is the employees who are having their rights infringed based on a theological tenant that they may not agree with! Does the author think that every employee of these institutions is required to convert to Catholicism as a requirement for employment? If not, then what gives the employer the right to restrict employee insurance options based on their own moral views? By that logic everyone would be beholden to their employer's moral judgements for their medical coverage.

As far as I'm concerned, and I think this fits with the general Liberal viewpoint, I think everyone should be able to practice their faith and live their lives as they see fit. But your right to do that ends when it infringes on my rights. That's what living together in a democracy is all about. We are all different, with different moral foundations and considerations, but we have to live together. The only way that works in a free society is to set the limit of your faith and moral views at the point where my rights begin. I respect Catholics right to practice their faith and live life based on their beliefs, but that doesn't mean they can enforce those beliefs on anyone else, especially non-Catholics.

Contrary to the authors bizarrely distorted theory about Liberals, they aren't trying to force anyone to sell their soul. They just want to limit your ability to force your morals onto someone else in the guise of religious or personal freedom. And that is what this is all about. The author has made the classic mistake of getting so worked up about what he sees as wrong that he's neglected to step back and consider it objectively. He fails to even glance at the other side of the argument. It's so much easier for him to mount his high horse and whine about how horrible Liberals are for saying a religious organization can't force its secular employees to live by its moral code. Boohoo! I'm afraid he has it backwards. But seeing both sides takes so much more energy and is nowhere near as satisfying as a good, full throated pity party!

The author's whole post, while well written and, forgive the pun, liberally seeded with historic markers, is 180 degrees out of line. To claim Liberals are secret totalitarian monsters at a time when the State and Federal government are replete with conservatives attempting to legislate morality is mind blowing. That's why this post was so tough to read. It was like reading an article from an alternate universe, where everything is reversed. And just like Limbaugh, the author seems to have no idea what Ms. Fluke was even testifying about. She spent the majority of her testimony speaking specifically about the use of birth control pills, not for contraception, but as a medical treatment. Even I know that birth control pills are often prescribed for non-sexual reasons! So this is indeed a women's health issue and not, as some brainless prats have claimed, a matter of too much casual sex. As Ms. Fluke stated in her full testimony:

"This is the message that not requiring coverage of contraception sends. A woman’s reproductive healthcare isn’t a necessity, isn’t a priority. These are not feelings that male fellow students experience. And they’re not burdens that male students must shoulder."

Despite using Ms. Fluke's name in just about every paragraph, in the end, the author's post is less about the Fluke/Limbaugh controversy than it is a letter of condemnation, denouncing anyone with the slightest progressive leaning. His accusations of intolerance and "liberal faith" are made up out of his fevered imagination. The piece is muddled even more by his obvious confusion between Liberals and the small group of activist Atheists when he starts blathering about such things as opposition to nativity scenes on public land. Something that only a minority of Liberals give any thought to. Then there is the Sharia law nonsense that only reinforces the author's warped thinking. Yes, there are Liberals who are a little 'out there'. Yes there are Liberals who will fight to stop nativity scenes from going up in front of the county courthouse. But the majority of Liberals are happy to let others live their lives as they wish, unless it infringes on someone else's rights. As I've stated, the author's thinking is way out of whack when compared to reality, but I wouldn't go out on a limb and declare that ALL Conservatives are this, or ALL Conservatives are that. There's a great line from the movie Gettysburg that I've always liked and it seems to fit well here. "Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time." I'm afraid that's exactly what the author of the American Thinker post is doing, judging 'Liberals', as a group, based on his own highly skewed caricature. Reality, you see, is a bit more complex.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Over the years, as I've posted opinion pieces and commented on various online articles, I have often been chided for being 'partisan'. That got me thinking about what it really means to be 'partisan'. Well, the best place to start when debating terminology is, of course, a dictionary. This is the primary definition of 'Partisan', according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

"a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person; especially : one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance."

Now the first part of that is pretty light-weight and would apply to any political preference. So I'm assuming that we're more focused on the second part. That's the real issue. Not that you have an opinion, but whether that opinion is supported and rational. Do you consider other views or do you cleve to your own despite all evidence?

By that reasoning, which you are free to dispute, I don't believe I am partisan, as a general rule. Sure I rail against conservative policies and Republicans, but I do so because I disagree with the point in question, not simply because they are conservatives and Republicans. It doesn't mean I mindlessly support Democrats and liberals on all issues. The truth is, the reason I'm usually in opposition to conservative positions is simple; they don't make sense. It's not that I dream Democratic dreams, or that I have a man-crush on President Obama. It's that conservative policies are so often focused on effect instead of effectiveness.

For example, I do not support gay rights because I'm in thrall to the Gay Liberation Front! I support it because it is right and just to do so. Because, while I respect anyone's right to be personally grossed out by the idea of homosexuality, I will never accept the view that a gay individual is any less of a person or citizen than anyone else simply because of who they are attracted to.

I don't support every Democratic or liberal idea, but I do find myself on that side of more arguments than not. Doesn't make me partisan, just means I have opinions that are more liberal than conservative. But the important distinction is that I take each issue as it comes and then make a decision based on the information and what makes sense to me. I don't do it because Rachel Maddow tells me to, though I will value the insight I get from her opinion because she has earned my trust and respect. Others have not. Yes I have a lot to say about certain people and the noxious drivel they produce, but that's not because they are the 'other side', it's because they are wrong. Or at least they continually champion ideas that don't make sense to me.

What inspires my most frustrated rants are ideas or policies that do not seem to follow any logical thread. Or put another way, it's like someone declaring triumphantly that their equation equals 100, yet no matter how many times I look at the numbers, they only add up to 83. A great example is the financial collapse. I am amazed when I stumble upon people who will declare with absolute sincerity that the root of the problem was government interference and how the banks were forced to give out mortgages to people who couldn't afford them. Huh? Sure it fits a certain preconceived notion about 'big government', but it makes no sense! There were no Congressional or Presidential orders issued to the banks demanding they grant $500K mortgages to couples earning $20K a year. It never happened. It's a figment of their imaginations. Not to mention that the financial industry has tremendous lobbying power, and they would never let something like that pass in the first place. No matter how often or loudly some individuals proclaim it to be true, it just doesn't add up. Unfortunately that won't stop them from continuing to declare it as fact.

This, to me, is what being partisan is all about. Standing by a notion despite all evidence against it. Championing a theory that is unsupported by the facts. In short, someone "exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance" to a political party or popular theory simply because it fits the narrative you are comfortable with. Look, sometimes the facts are just against you. Sometimes no matter how much you wish they proved your side right, they just don't. When that happens, you step back and re-evaluate.