I’m heading to Tokyo this weekend for some events and talks about the recently published Japanese edition of Mediactive The following events are open to the public. All but the Digital Hollywood event are free, but reservations are required in each case.

Tuesday, Oct. 11: 7-9 pm at Asahi newspaper

Wednesday, Oct. 12: 8-10 pm at Digital Hollywood (School of Media Art)

Thursday, Oct. 13: 2-4:30 pm at Digital Garage

Thursday, Oct. 13: 6:30-8:30 pm at Nikkei newspaper

UPDATED

Andrew Breitbart is incensed at a Twitter tweet I posted, pointing at a Little Green Footballs post that cited some ugly and grossly racist comments on Breitbart’s site. Given his history — especially in the Shirley Sherrod affair — I found myself sadly unsurprised that he’d provide a platform for such stuff, and expressed that opinion.

In a series of reply tweets, Breitbart said a) he provides an un-moderated platform; b) he loathes the racist stuff; and c) he doesn’t tolerate this at all. He also suggested — I’d love to see evidence for this — that left-wingers are using his open comment system to leave at least some of the hateful comments in question.  Meanwhle, his supporters, who are legion, demanded to know why I don’t denounce the comment garbage elsewhere. Well, I do and have; my special contempt is reserved for unmoderated anonymous comments where the purpose is to attack someone, which can turn threads are cesspools — and I am constantly surprised that big media sites, especially, allow their comment threads to be so putrid. This stuff is a pox on all of us. I don’t know why Breitbart allows it at all, given his expressions of disgust (which in fact makes it surprising, not unsurprising, that he does, even briefly) at the hateful stuff, but I will take him at his word that he doesn’t like or endorse it.

BUT: Whatever his policies may be, and however wrong I think he is to have unmoderated comments, Breitbart was absolutely right that I should have contacted him first before I pointed to the LGF posting, and asked him to respond. In not doing that, I wasn’t fair to him (and I’ve deleted my original tweet). He’s made it clear, moreover, that he does not share the beliefs of the hateful people who make those comments. I apologize.

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee posted this announcement on Usenet (the main Internet forums of the day). The key line:

“The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow links to be made to any information anywhere.”

Berners-Lee didn’t just give this to the world. He deliberately declined to patent this work, because he wanted wide adoption of his invention and believed in a culture of open, not closed.

We are all in his debt.

The Mac I’m using today — without question the best computer I’ve ever owned — is almost certainly my last Mac.

This machine is a Macbook Air, a 13-inch model that came out last year. It is a stunningly fine combination of size, style and power. And Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” is a terrific operating system. I’ve customized it for my needs, and have truly enjoyed using it.

Because so much of my work depends on having a reliable and up-to-date computer, I buy a new one each year, using the older one as a backup in case of trouble with the newer machine. In recent years, that has meant owning two roughly equivalent Macs.

The latest Macbook Air went on sale this week. As is always the case with technology, it’s even more powerful than the one I have. I crave it. I won’t buy it.

Here’s the key issue: Not only does the new model come with OS X Lion installed, it will not run Snow Leopard at all. 

Lion is far too new for me to trust as my primary OS. And it is a radical departure — so radical in key ways that I can’t imagine _ever_ trusting it.

The hardware issue is entirely Apple’s choice. On these new Macbook Airs, using Parallels or VMWare Fusion, I could install any version of Windows or Linux on the new Air, and they’d run, provided there was support for the hardware. The only gotcha, for the moment, would be the Thunderbolt port. I assume Windows and popular Linux distributions, even older versions, will add support (if they haven’t already). But Apple’s policy is to make it impossible to run earlier Mac OS versions on its new machines, period. If there turns out to be a way to install Snow Lion in a partition, that might help, but I see no sign of that in the research I’ve done.

This wouldn’t be a big issue if I liked Lion more. Some of the changes look terrific, based on reviews. Others are more questionable, even though they’re designed to create a more modern structure — in itself a worthy objective but not when forced on users who have become accustomed to perfectly workable earlier methods.

Still other changes, however, are plainly designed to push Mac users into a more iPad/iPhone-like ecosystem, where Apple gives you permission to use the computers you buy in only the ways Apple considers appropriate. The writing has been on Apple’s wall for some time. It’s aiming for absolute authority over the ecosystem in which all its devices operate. Given the well-chronicled consequences of the company’s control-freakery in the iOS ecosystem, which is being merged with the Mac, that’s unacceptable — to me, at any rate, even if it’s just fine with everyone else.

For the past year, I’d been slowly working to move my desktop/laptop computing over to Linux in any case. It’s slow going for a lot of reasons, not least of which is my inability to replace several must-have tools, notably sparse disk image bundles and several superb applications I use for my blogging and other media creation.

In most ways, Ubuntu runs nicely on the new ThinkPad 220, a computer that is probably the best in its class. Yet I often feel about the experience the way I used to feel about the Windows-Mac comparison that’s held true for so many years: It tends to get in your way, while the Mac tends to get out of your way.

By rejecting its past so thoroughly — a proud history of creating devices that we users could modify for our own purposes with no one’s permission but our own — Apple is forcing me to move on.

An ugly mood in America today…

At a bed & breakfast table this morning, the conversation among the B&B customers turned to yesterday’s verdict in the C**** A****** trial. People were incredulous, bordering on angry, at the acquittal. They _knew_ this was wrongly decided, and never mind the damn jury.

One woman announced that her friend watched the trial on TV and was certain that the defendant was guilty of murder. Another said, “She went partying after hearing her child was missing.”

I asked, as mildly as I could, if being a bad person is grounds for a murder conviction, and who were we to tell the jurors, who were actually there in the courtroom for the trial and ultimately didn’t believe this case was proved beyond a reasonable doubt, to say their doubts were unreasonable.

I got a couple of hard looks from others at the table. Happily, the conversation turned to other topics.

Then, on Twitter, I saw reports that the ever-odious Nancy Grace had essentially told a national TV audience that the verdict was BS. I know, this is her stock in trade: inciting the public to hate defendants she dislikes. But it’s dangerous stuff.

Maybe C.A. did it. Instead of bemoaning a verdict of not guilty, though, we should be cheering a system where, at least on occasion, the presumption of innocence — and a requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt — still means something.

UPDATED

It is Memorial Day in America, a Monday holiday that ends a three-day weekend — a holiday that has come to reflect so much of my nation’s culture.

Once, the day was about sacrifice: honoring the American men and women who gave their lives in military service. But it became mostly about pleasure: barbecue grills, shopping, entertainment and general relaxation.

On this Memorial Day, Americans are fighting in two semi-official wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and participants in a NATO mini-war in Libya. They are volunteers. They are dying and being crippled in significant numbers, and apart from their families and friends in the U.S. they are essentially an afterthought to most of their fellow Americans. They bear the brunt of our government’s penchant for empire. They sacrifice. We grill our burgers.

My generation, the Baby Boomers, rules in Washington these days, and we refuse to cover even the financial cost of their sacrifice. With few exceptions, we’ve chosen to borrow and spend, in mind-boggling amounts. President George W. Bush and Congress pushed the fiscal cost of the Iraq war off the official budget, pretending that we could just toss it on the pile of other debts they and earlier governments had incurred. Under President Obama, the accounting is somewhat more honest but the costs are still being pushed to future taxpayers.

American society has never fully shared the sacrifices its people have undertaken to build a great nation. But the disproportion has become grotesque, deeply wrong. Yes, the men and women of our Armed Forces have volunteered, and they have earned our respect and support. But there have been consequences we’ve rarely considered. Relatively few people shoulder this enormous burden, and the rest of us have let them drift far from our eyes and minds, especially since we’re not even shouldering a financial burden for these wars. Military and non-military families might as well live in different societies, a dangerous cultural divide.

Which is why, among other reasons, that I believe it’s time to restore the military draft. It’s why I believe a new draft should include (and maybe start with) me and my generation — and should be one of many shared sacrifices America undertakes to restore a prosperous and just society. And it’s why I will vote for any political candidate, of any party, who says these things out loud and promises to vote accordingly.

Granted, my cohort is too old for combat. No amount of training could put us in the kind of physical shape needed for that job. But we’re not too old to do many of the other jobs the military needs done. Military effectiveness is more than ever about brains than brawn. A good programmer or logistics expert serves differently, but those are enormously important skills.

There are millions of Boomers who could ably handle the rear-echelon tasks that the military spends vast energy and money to train 18-year-olds to do, and we could do them better. I wouldn’t like it, but if my number came up in a truly level draft — a draft that didn’t distinguish by age or financial station — I’d willingly go to Afghanistan to serve in any capacity that was useful, even if that was to write press releases.

The Boomer generation is loaded with talent. Consider all of the geniuses who operate Wall Street’s investment banks. Few of them have served, but surely the nation would be well served if we asked them to temporarily divert their energies to screwing our enemies instead of their clients and the American public. I’d be especially glad to see a draft that included hawkish commentators and members of Congress who are so proud to see other people’s children heading to war zones.

A draft would probably also save money. Today, taxpayers are borrowing countless billions to spend on highly paid “private security contractors” — the mercenary forces that fill the gaps we refuse to fill by not fielding fully equipped forces either in manpower or materiel. Sharing sacrifice would mean drafting men and women to serve at standard military wages.

To anticipate just a few of the objections to this idea, let me raise two obvious ones. First, the volunteer forces have been successes in many ways, especially the leg up they’ve given young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Military service has provided training, confidence and leadership skills to people who honor us and their nation by serving. The answer to this, of course, is a program of national service — a requirement that everyone spend a year or two in some capacity that America needs. (That’s a topic for another piece in this series.)

Another issue is what happens to older people’s income, not to mention their jobs, when they serve in a truly comprehensive military draft. We don’t want people heading off to Afghanistan and defaulting on their home mortgages. Asking a small business to preserve at least some income and positions would plainly require subsidies. But large companies already have enormous advantages; I’d require them to a) pay a portion of the difference between a military salary and what the employee was making; and b) to hold the position, or an equivalent one, open for the employee’s return. Sharing sacrifice, remember?

This argues, of course, for starting with the people who need subsidies the least, especially those who’ve inherited or made so much money already that even a 24-month major reduction in income would be barely noticeable. People whose incomes in recent years have been subsidized by the rest of us — such as Wall Street bankers — would be great candidates.

I know there are a thousand other problems with this suggestion. But I’m certain they are not show-stoppers. When Americans put their minds to creative problem-solving, we tend to find answers.

I honor our military men and women, people who have joined a tribe that the rest of us barely recognizes except on special days of the year and when they either make huge mistakes or claim big victories. But we dishonor them, and undermine our nation, with our unwillingness to face up to the true cost of war or to share the sacrifices more broadly; it’s easier to pursue war when we don’t bear the burden ourselves.

The majority of Americans who fear we are headed in the wrong direction are not stupid. They see a future entirely unlike the one they faced as young adults. The Boomers know in their guts that their children are likely to be worse off, not better off, than themselves. And they know who’s largely responsible: the generation that followed World War II’s “Greatest Generation,” a cohort that will someday be remembered as the Selfish Generation.

Unless. Unless we get honest with ourselves, at long last — and say the truth out loud as a society, and then act on it. Do we have leaders who will be honest with us?

The truth is, America is in clear and present danger, not just of decline but a frighteningly rapid descent into Second World status. We are in danger of turning this greatest experiment in self-governance into a corrupt, bankrupt, and violently polarized society.

So let’s reinstate the draft, as Step One in the generation of shared sacrifice Americans will have to make. (Step Two, perhaps: Raise taxes to pay for these wars as we fight them.) Something called the United States of America will survive even if we don’t. But that nation will not be the America most of us want.

 

The drumbeat of privacy debacles gets louder every week. But how can we fight back? It’s not easy, but the one bit of leverage we do have is our willingness to do business with the violators.

Sony is responsible for the worst recent database incursion, with its PlayStation network severely compromised. The company now admits, after a bizarre delay, that all kinds of sensitive user data, possibly including credit-card numbers and, most likely, even answers to security questions, is in the hands of criminals.

Meanwhile, Apple took its time even acknowledging what security experts had found to be problematic storage of users’ location data on the phones and the desktop computers to which they must be tethered for updates and backups. Steve Jobs’ current statements don’t fully square with what the company has said before, the Wall Street Journal reports, and Apple’s insistence that software “bugs” were responsible for much of the situation fails the smell test. As Gizmodo noted in its typically way, Apple’s PR-driven Q&A says, essentially, “We’re not tracking your location, we’re just tracking your location!”

I’m no longer a customer of either Sony or any Apple iOS products — largely because I disapprove of those companies’ control-freak tendencies — so I have no power to influence them by taking my dollars elsewhere. I hope their customers will consider making this kind of decision, and explain why if they do.

I did have that power with one of the companies caught up in yet another notable data breach in the last few weeks. Chase Bank issued one of my credit cards, and I have a small checking account there. In an April 6 email, Chase wrote:

Chase is letting our customers know that we have been informed by Epsilon, a vendor we use to send e-mails, that an unauthorized person outside Epsilon accessed files that included e-mail addresses of some Chase customers.  We have a team at Epsilon investigating and we are confident that the information that was retrieved included some Chase customer e-mail addresses, but did not include any customer account or financial information.  Based on everything we know, your accounts and confidential information remain secure.  As always, we are advising our customers of everything we know as we know it, and will keep you informed on what impact, if any, this will have on you.

We apologize if this causes you any inconvenience.  We want to remind you that Chase will never ask for your personal information or login credentials in an e-mail.  As always, be cautious if you receive e-mails 
asking for your personal information and be on the lookout for unwanted spam.  It is not Chase’s practice to request personal information by e-mail.

Such bland assurances are absurd. This is more than an inconvenience; for many customers it will be a big problem. When the bad guys have your email address and know what companies you do business with, they are eager to go phishing — that is, to pretend to be that company and lure you into a trap.

I’m not Epsilon’s customer. Chase is the customer, and that gave me limited leverage. But I had this much:

Using the messaging system on Chase’s customer-accounts website, I asked the bank’s customer support the following question:

My question is this: Does Chase plan to continue using Epsilon for these services? If so, I will be canceling my Chase accounts and moving them to institutions that take their customers privacy more seriously.

Chase initially responded with boilerplate informing me that it takes privacy “very seriously” — standard language that means nothing. I wrote back, saying that the reply was non-responsive and that I did want an answer.

Some days later, a Chase employee called. I asked again, did the bank intend to keep doing business with Epsilon? The employee said that Chase had “suspended” its use of Epsilon services while it investigated the hacking.

Even the suspension is suspect. I also asked how I would know if Chase was using this email provider again. I’d have to call back, she said. In other words, the onus is on me to find out if Chase resumes business with a vendor that has demonstrated its inability to protect Chase’s customers.

I’ve decided this isn’t good enough.

Chase had a chance to re-earn my trust, to make a statement to the public that this kind of casual treatment of customers’ information by its vendors is not acceptable and would not be tolerated. The only way I can imagine for this to be taken seriously is for Chase to announce that it’s terminating its relationship with Epsilon, period.

Since this isn’t happening, I’m looking for a new bank. If you’re a Chase customer, consider doing the same.