Democrats have a file on you

One of the reasons President Obama was re-elected, according to observers, is the way his campaign made use of data-mining and other on-line resources.  This article by Craig Timberg and Amy Gardner in the Washington Post details what the campaign did and says how other Democrats are trying to get their hands on the database that was compiled.

But when you read the article, do red flags about privacy keep coming up?  I wonder if people who are worried about the information Google collects on each one of us has a similar concern about the information the Democratic party collects on each one of us.  And if the commercial use of this kind of information is problematic, isn’t the political use even worse?

If you voted this election season, President Obama almost certainly has a file on you. His vast campaign database includes information on voters’ magazine subscriptions, car registrations, housing values and hunting licenses, along with scores estimating how likely they were to cast ballots for his reelection.

And although the election is over, Obama’s database is just getting started. . . .

The database consists of voting records and political donation histories bolstered by vast amounts of personal but publicly available consumer data, say campaign officials and others familiar with the operation. It could record hundreds of pieces of information for each voter.

Campaign workers added far more detail through a broad range of voter contacts — in person, on the phone, via e-mail or through visits to the campaign’s Web site. Those who used its Facebook app, for example, had their files updated with lists of their Facebook friends, along with scores measuring the intensity of those relationships and whether they lived in swing states. If their last names sounded Hispanic, a key target group for the campaign, the database recorded that, too. . . .

All Democratic candidates have access to the party’s lists, which include voting and donation histories along with some consumer data. What Obama’s database adds are the more fine-grained analyses of what issues matter most to voters and how best to motivate them to donate, volunteer and vote. . . .

The database powered nearly everything about Obama’s campaign, including fundraising, identifying likely supporters and urging them to vote. This resulted in an operational edge that helped a candidate with a slim margin in the overall national vote to trounce Romney in the state-by-state electoral college contests.

Obama was able to collect and use personal data largely free of the restrictions that govern similar efforts by private companies. Neither the Federal Trade Commission, which has investigated the handling of personal data by Google, Facebook and other companies, nor the Federal Election Commission has jurisdiction over how campaigns use such information, officials at those agencies say.

Privacy advocates say the opportunity for abuse — by Obama, Romney or any other politician’s campaign — is serious, as is the danger of hackers stealing the data. Voters who willingly gave campaigns such information may not have understood that it would be passed on to the party or other candidates, even though disclosures on Web sites and Facebook apps warn of that possibility.

Chris Soghoian, an analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former FTC technologist, said voters should worry that the interests of politicians and commercial data brokers have aligned, making legal restrictions of data collection less likely.

“They’re going to be loath to regulate those companies if they are relying on them to target voters,” he said.

via Democrats push to redeploy Obama’s voter database – The Washington Post.

Church of England says “No” to women bishops

The Church of England voted not to allow women to be bishops.  Bishops, priests, and laity had to pass the proposed change by a two-thirds majority.  The Bishops voted 44-3 in favor of female bishops.  The priests voted 148-45 in favor.  The measure was blocked by the laity, who voted 132-74, which was about 4 votes shy of the 2/3 needed.

The British parliament is indignant and is threatening intervention in the state church.

Some people recommend an episcopalian polity so that bishops would keep churches orthodox.  But it would seem, judging from the experience of American Anglicanism, that they don’t.   Some favor a clergy-dominated polity to keep the church orthodox, and yet, as we see here, the clergy are often the ones trying to enforce a liberal agenda.  In this case and in many others, the laity turn out to be most conservative faction in the church.

 

via Church of England blocks move to approve female bishops.

CS Lewis to be added to Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis.  Next year on the 50th anniversary of that occasion, Lewis will be honored with a plaque in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.

English writers have been either buried here or memorialized since the time of Geoffrey Chaucer.  Lewis will join literary luminaries like Spenser, Samuel Johnson, Blake, Keats, Dickens, and T. S. Eliot.

I didn’t realize Lewis had that stature outside of Christian circles, though, of course, Westminster Abbey is, above all, an Anglican church.

BBC News – CS Lewis to be honoured in Poets’ Corner.

When to fast and when to feast

Walter Isaacson has written a fascinating column about Ben Franklin’s view of America.  He quotes from an essay Franklin wrote about Thanksgiving.  I have never heard this detail about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving.  Perhaps it’s apocryphal.  But still, it reminds us of a common confusion and perhaps can give us perspective on other things that make us feel gloomy:

Franklin’s optimism about the American experiment is reflected in an essay he wrote about our first Thanksgiving. The early settlers, “their minds gloomy and discontented,” frequently fasted to seek relief from their distress, he recounted. Just when they were about to declare another day of fasting, “a farmer of plain sense” pointed out that “the inconveniences they suffered, and concerning which they had so often wearied heaven with their complaints, were not so great.” Instead of another fast, the farmer argued, they should have a feast to give thanks. Writing a century later — in 1785, a period when both the economy and political system looked fragile, rather like the present — Franklin assured his fellow citizens that thanksgiving was still warranted. “Let us take a cool view of the general state of our affairs, and perhaps the prospect will appear less gloomy than has been imagined,” he wrote.

via Walter Isaacson: The America Ben Franklin saw – The Washington Post.

The true meaning of Thanksgiving

 

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

via First Article of the Creed. The Small Catechism – Book of Concord

God “has given me. . .meat and drink. . .and all my goods,” as well as family, protection, and “all that I need.”  And He “has given me. . .all my senses,” so that it is fitting that we savor, enjoy, and take delight in our Thanksgiving Feast.  “For all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.”

Rules for Thanksgiving

Timothy R. Smith, a 26-year-old single guy, says that he is in the position this year of having to prepare a Thanksgiving Dinner for himself and a bunch of his friends.  He reports his relief at coming across Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by food critic Sam Sifton, which gives step-by-step instructions on how to do everything.  From Smith’s review of the book:

Sifton sets down rules that must be followed to guarantee success. Some of those bylaws seem to turn the tastemaker into a taskmaster, but that lends the book a certain charm.

For instance, one should always carve the turkey in the kitchen, not at the table; a first course should never precede the turkey — serve the whole meal at once; do not cook anything out of season; begin serving libations once guests arrive; and salad is always an unwelcome guest. He eschews marshmallows in any form at the Thanksgiving table, whether on sweet potatoes or dessert.

The glue of the meal is cranberry sauce and gravy. “Debate that all you like,” Sifton declares. “But they tie every element on the plate together.” And dessert should be the meal’s blissful, final amphetamine. “A proper Thanksgiving should close out with a blast of warm, gooey flavor — a burst of sugar that can give a guest just enough energy to make it from table to couch, the holiday’s final resting place.” Dessert must be a simple American classic, preferably apple or pumpkin pie with a breast of whipped cream. He disapproves of tartlets or parfaits and any form of innovative pastry.

Above all, Thanksgiving must be traditional, Sifton argues.

via Sam Sifton helps novice holiday chefs in ‘Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well’ – The Washington Post.

I would add that the final point about tradition has to trump all other rules, including that idiosyncratic rejection of marshmallows.  He has a point about salads in the sense of green leafy healthy salads–unless one comes in under the tradition rule–though salads containing Jello and/or Cool Whip are permitted, especially if it’s never eaten except at Thanksgiving.

This made me think of other Thanksgiving rules:

(1)  To determine how big of a turkey you need to buy, count the number of guests and estimate how many portions each is likely to eat.  Then buy the biggest turkey you can find.

You need a gigantic turkey in order to create the impression of abundance, which, in turn, makes people feel a jolt of thankfulness.  Also, you want lots and lots of leftovers, enough to replay the feast until the Jello and Cool Whip salads run out, and, above all, to have turkey sandwiches throughout the holiday weekend and as long after that as possible.

Recipe for turkey sandwiches:  Get two pieces of soft, airy, pillowy white bread of the kind people who are serious about food scorn.  (You may have to get on E-bay to get some Wonderbread [current bid for a loaf:  $25]).  Lubricate one side of both slices with a thick layer of mayonnaise.  Pile high with turkey.  Than add a thick layer of salt, not as seasoning but as an ingredient.  Top with the other piece of bread.  Eat with potato chips.  The culinary principle is that it’s all white.  You may, however, eat it with a sweet pickle on the side.

(2)  Whether or not people like a dish has nothing to do with whether it should be served at Thanksgiving.  Foods sanctioned by ancient use must still be served, even if no one currently likes them.  New foods may be introduced, as long as the old foods are included.  If, however, a dish has been served for two successive Thanksgivings, it has become traditional and must be served from then on.

(3)  Tradition resets with the beginning of a new family.  Thus, newly married couples having their own Thanksgiving Dinner for the first time are entitled to start their own traditions, as long as they maintain some thread of continuity with the traditions of each person’s childhood.  The husband and the wife should each choose one or more dish they always had when they were growing up.  The criteria is, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it.”  In this way, two families come together into a new family.  Newly-married couples are free to add any foods they choose.  But if it is served for two successive years, rule #2 applies.

(4)  Thanksgiving is about gratitude, so no fighting or sniping is allowed on Thanksgiving.  That can wait until the rest of the weekend.  Thanksgiving customs and observances should all provoke a response of thankfulness.  That applies to these rules themselves.  We are thankful not just for the food and the abundance and the material blessings they represent.  We are also thankful for our families, here and stretching back through time, for the memories, for what it was like to be a child and to grow up, for our history–personal and corporate and national–and for our culture, from the little community of our family to the local and regional and national cultures that we are part of.   We are thankful for the continuities, the social order and our place in it, as well as the uniqueness of everyone at the table.  And we are thankful for our senses and for so many sensory pleasures and so many good gifts, all of which we receive from the hand of God.

That’s how we do it in the Veith household, since time immemorial.  I hasten to add that since tradition trumps EVERYTHING, you and your family may do things differently.  So what are some of your rules for Thanksgiving?


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