Saturday, June 26, 2010

alarming developments on facebook

Actually, they may not even be new, but I found them alarming nevertheless. I have recently got in touch with another round of lost friends on Facebook; these were lost (to me) for over thirty years, so it was really good to reconnect, and I as much as anyone appreciate having these people, from way back, still be in my life, or in my life again.

But while trolling around, and while chatting with my sister, who is a semi-famous musician, I found two pages, well three, really, though one is not on Facebook- that disturbed me greatly. I'm sure Facebook's intent was not malicious here; actually, I'm not even totally sure Facebook was behind them. But I'm pretty sure they were, and I'm pretty sure that when people truly understand what is going on, they will be as alarmed as I am.

The first was called "Hiking" and was one of those pages you click "Like" on and become one of hundreds of people who "like" "hiking". Nine of my friends were already on there! A picture of someone strolling at the top graced the page. Information about hiking made the page more attractive. What's not to like?

Further down the page was a twitter-like section where every status that included the word "hiking" appeared; these rolled in at the rate of about one a minute. In one, a woman said that she enjoyed hiking so much she was off alcohol for a day or two. In another, some people said they were in the deepest mountains for a week.

These posts were aggregated because they all contained the word "hiking" as Twitter would aggregate anything that anyone wanted to put in a single place, like #iranrevolution. The hashtag innovation made it possible for people to "collect" information about a single topic and I'm sure that's what Facebook had in mind. Innocent, useful, innovative, right? NO.

I'm sure the first woman was NOT AWARE that the entire world could now see her status; she may have been thinking that only her friends, or her network, could see it. That's what I thought too. I've cast a fairly wide net for "friends" but I'm satisfied with each status, that that 400 are the ones who will read it, and not many others; I'm a little aggravated that "aggregators" are out there snatching up stuff that contains single words. The second group of people may now be miffed that having an address in a city can be a big mistake, when someone somewhere knows you are in the mountains for a week. Big mistake! Or maybe, the mistake is putting anything on Facebook!

Another site that disturbed me was the Univision telecasting of the World Cup; here, I was watching Paraguay and Slovakia (?) or some such game, and Facebook provided a running commentary-window for people who chose to use their status to say something to the effect of, Go Paraguay! Most people were doing this, and the window became a kind of chat, compiled out of various statuses. But one guy was using it to argue, in capital letters, that the holocaust was a hoax, and he took on all comers; naturally he got some people pretty riled up. A running argument played out in the chat window as Paraguayan strikers tried to organize their offense.

Finally, while chatting with my sister, we noticed that a page had been set up with her name to be a Wikipedia-style collection of all information pertaining to her, about her, related to her, etc. Because its spiders trapped her name in all forms, it got all comments she made to family, doting on her nieces and nephews, snide comments she'd made on my photos, etc. It simply picked up these comments, and deposited them on this particular page, as if they were public all along. They weren't. When I comment on her photo, I'm aware that all her friends will see it, and I'm ok with that. But I'm not necessarily ok with the world seeing it, particularly guys like that one who was lurking around Univision. There are some creeps out there. There are people who will use this stuff to make mischief.

Consider some scenarios, which believe me have already played out on Twitter. Someone gets extra mileage out of a raunchy post just for putting certain words in it; those words just suddenly APPEAR in raunchy posts; some sites become repositories of raunch; our posts sit in there with others, just because we used some word; people like her have to watch that sites that carry their names keep a level of civility. It's already too much! The technology has made hyper-surveillance a reality in all phases of our lives (even making pages, automatically, with a person's name on it- thus making this page appear to be hers, or at least, about her; creating a kind of virtual echo, or chamber repeating and expanding everything she has said, or anything anyone has said to her or about her, and similarly to everyone or anyone who is deemed to be "famous"....

ach, it's scary. When I told her, she gave up, and went to bed. Delete it in the morning.

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Leverett, T. (2010, June). Add me! Facebook and the international student. Global Study Magazine 6, 1. pp. 66-69, London.

I have to say a couple of things about this one, besides the usual: it's not online yet, but I'll tell you.

First, it's an incredibly well-made magazine, completely full of good articles; some of these are written by myself and old friends of mine who are excellent writers and essentially getting good practice and exposure here. In this very issue is an article, "The teacher who mistook her student for a split infinitive," which is about the age-old teaching dilemma of not seeing the whole essay but only focusing on the parts; also, "Travel is broadening," about the age-old dilemma of gaining weight abroad; I highly recommend these, and they are only the ones I read first, because I know the authors.

The magazine is full of good articles, yet it's hard to find here; still few people I know are aware of it outside of our own circle. Do they sell it at newsstands? Anywhere else? I'm not sure about the magazine circulation business; this one, in particular, seems to have a European flavor on the cover, yet the articles are written by at least some Americans, and I wouldn't expect them to push it so much in the US when the US is a prime destination, not exit point, for its customers. Yet I'm still a little fuzzy on who is actually reading these and where they're finding it. I'm hoping it does well because it's so well made. We get ads for SIUC/CESL in it; I'm not sure which students we could get, who might see this ad and follow up.

Second, then, is a comment I have about the title; in the US, we would say, "Friend me," yet I somehow didn't catch this before it went to print, and I'm not sure if I would have changed it, if I had. This dilemma would be related to the question above. I find it slightly objectionable to "friend" people- I mean, to use "friend" as a verb, not really to do the action; but, in the same way, you "add" numbers, not people, don't you?

Enough said. If you don't believe me, about the quality of the articles, go to its web home and browse around. Many of mine are deep back in there; I'd like to collect them on a single site, but haven't. I'm proud of them, as a collection, yet, because I write about stuff like Facebook, it becomes obsolete, almost the minute I write it. So, I'd like to think of myself as an archivist of history. I'm here, at this moment, in 2010; I write what I see, and, if that can serve as any kind of record, it may, at least until I, or someone else, delete it.

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from out and around


Chenow, R. (2010, June 26). The Feuding Fathers. Wall Street Journal online. Accessed 6-10 ttp://

Saturday, June 19, 2010

usa rocks!

My students generally have a soft spot for the USA soccer team, underdog that it is, drawing (tying) traditional power England and then tying Slovenia also; this is actually a good showing for us and keeps us in the race to enter the second round of the World Cup, which is still a week or so away. Time has been flying by, and I occasionally get a glimpse at a piece of a game, as I did the USA-Slovenia match; maybe about five minutes, before I taught, with the USA at that point losing 2-1. So I haven't seen enough of the entire tournament to make qualified commentary, except to say, with family crises drawing out in infinite agony, and schoolwork up to my ears, the need for escapism through soccer is greater than ever, and I find myself pouncing on each game in spirit, even though, at seven or nine in the morning, i can't watch them, ever. in spirit, part of me is in south africa; it's an international event, and the world shares in fascination, every tiny detail.

Some of the expected great powers are still doing well: Argentina, Brazil, and Netherlands, to name a few; nobody expected Spain, France or Germany to lose this early, but none of them are really out of it yet, as I guess you are if you have lost two (Cameroon, Nigeria, and a few others). My friend says you generally need a win and a draw to advance, but for teams with only draws (like the USA), our hope lies in the chance that our last match will be a win - and this may be more likely against Algeria, than for our rivals, England, who must now beat a very tough Slovenia. Slovenia can play for the draw, as they already have a win; I'm not sure how this changes things.

One day I peek around the corner from the coffee shop, where the wide-screen shows the world cup right at the bowling part of the student center; there are about eight or nine Brazilians, all dressed in yellow, with a vuvuzela, and also a guitar and some other kind of instrument; they are singing in Portuguese, and cheering on their team, which includes a guy named Kaka; one side of me had never actually believed that this guy was real, though some student had at one point explained that he was the best soccer player at the moment; even as he spoke he was met with harsh argument. I had never seen such a display of national passion for the sport before this; it was impressive; but even in that match, I could afford no more than about ten or fifteen minutes of my time to actually watch; I'm just too busy.

So the day of the USA-Slovenia match, there was nobody there, except a single student-center worker, who had somehow become drawn in to the drama, and was checking in regularly between his various chores around the building. As I walked back up to the class I was to teach, I tried to forget the match (which was going against us anyway) and put my mind into the class which I taught as usual, in cold, unemotional detachment; but, at the end, a student, knowing where I stood and eager to inform me of what they learned immediately, perhaps through a blackberry, said, "Mr. Leverett! You equalized!" I was dumbfounded; he repeated, and I still didn't get it. Finally after some explanation I figured out that it was USA that had dramatically caught up; and, in fact there was more to the drama that I didn't even pick up until later; inevitably, some things are lost in translation, or unable to be communicated effectively, in the hallway, between classes. There are, in fact, other Americans around, who are paying attention (my fellow male teachers, actually, are my best examples)- but, I was sorry that there was no little cheering section there at the student center, as there would be, say, in any little barber shop or restaurant in all of Mexico, during the France match. All's the pity. Go USA!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

pass the vuvuzela

As a fan of college basketball teams like the Salukis and Hawkeyes who rarely make it past the first round of the NCAA's, I am used to the idea that "who do you like best?" and "who do you think will win?" are two separate questions. For some of my students, however, they are indistinguishable. The idea is to pick a good team, one that has a chance, and stick with it all the way to the end. In that spirit I've picked Argentina, though I think they'll have their hardest time today; but, remember, I'm also going for USA, who also may have a rough day (god forbid) and of course I'm a longstanding fan of the African teams, and was especially impressed by South Africa itself.

That said, I have a number of observations based on what I've already seen. I saw a bit of the Mexico-South Africa match at the Student Center bowling place; a lone Mexican family was watching with me. The woman was nursing a baby who was literally getting World Cup with her mother's milk. Mexican fans, of whom there are many in this town, were disappointed at the result, no doubt, but Mexico was in a tough position, playing the hosts and all (here I'll point out that all the commentary you hear is British, so you would say, Mexico were..., or, as they said, "Mexico are trying to be the pah-ty peu-pah he-ah"...

So it was gracious of Mexico to grant a tie to the hosts, to put them in good spirits, ride them through the week, and allow the world to hear these wild horns that must be exported a.s.a.p. along with some of the language, and, to be sure, Miriam Makeba, though she's dead. The France-Uruguay match, however, left me with a different feeling. First, a 0-0 draw is an impotent kind of result; they both came out losers in my book. My colleague told me I could watch it streaming-live on Univision (in Spanish) which I did, but offered other streaming options; I did vocabulary exercises and schoolwork anyway, and it was just as well, nothing happened. I lose big on the office pool; I'm not used to picking draws; it leaves me wondering how many there will actually be. My colleague says, generally you need a win and a draw to advance (it was news to me that you got 3 pts. for a win, not 2)...shows what a novice I am, I guess.

Speaking of novices, I have one more comment. Nobody seems to deem it necessary to distinguish which team is white, and which is blue, as if the entire world already recognizes the French stars just by their face. Here's one guy who doesn't. Both France and Uruguay looked very racially mixed; the white team had red, white and blue stripes; I was at a loss to figure out which was which. The names on their uniforms were illegible and didn't sound French or Spanish; besides using culturist assumptions that French teams will have French-sounding names doesn't strike me as cool. So give us a break! Give us a hand here. I know this from showing baseball to internationals...although a local here would take half a second to recognize Cardinal-red, it wouldn't mean thing to an outsider...


Friday, June 11, 2010

targeted marketing

With all this brouhaha about Facebook and its selling of your personal information, several things have occurred to me. I'd like to make a radical proposal: targeted marketing not only doesn't work; it backfires. This should be put in perspective though.

My own story is well-known (to readers of this blog & students): I saw an ad that said that if I was 56, I could have an iPad. I wondered how they knew I was 56 (I had listed my birthdate) and how they knew I was interested in iPads (more devious on their part, but the information was clearly out there). I tried to change my birthdate so I could see marketing directed at 110-year-olds; Facebook wouldn't let me. I object to advertisements that appear with my favorite bands, so I don't tell them my favorite bands. The whole thing offends me.

So I realize, I'm not alone. It offends everyone. They list the Beatles as a band they "like" and all of a sudden the Beatles appear in their sidebar selling them birth control. It's like meeting a salesman who already knows what kind of cereal you eat: come back another day, ok? I don't even like telemarketers, especially when they mispronounce my name. I'm known to say, "he's dead" when they ask for Mr. LeVerritt.

The ironic thing is that the marketers themselves were so eager to jump on the concept. It's well known in telemarketing and other fields that calls to people who have already expressed interest in a topic are always better than what's known as "cold calls." So where's the line? Most of our preferences, our "likes"- we willingly wear on our sleeves. Why do people now have to take these bands and books OUT of their Facebook page, or learn the cavernous mechanisms of its privacy's like, all of a sudden, we have something to hide, that it didn't occur to us had any value whatsoever, before.

Reminds me of something I read while in New Mexico, maybe last spring. Called Google's Orwell Moment, it has been reprinted here, I believe, but got me to thinking about this very problem. Google made the outlandish assumption that people in your e-mail inbox were your "network" or even your "allies." Wrong- they just send you e-mails. Same with Facebook. Why do you assume I want the whole world to know what I "like"? Why do you even assume I want the whole world to know who's in my inbox, or, that they are all allies with each other? Although, I admit, every time I pressed "like"- I assumed I was on Main Street, all along. Main street, with a videocam, lots of tape, and somebody with infinite patience, to dig through all the data.

To get back to the marketers: to be blunt, you're going to have to learn the polite social habit of knowing all this information, but pretending you don't. You're going to have to make ads appear like they're directed at everyone, when they're not. You're going to have to go back to the tried & true raise-their-awareness techniques, and stop poking everyone in the sensitive personal places. Maybe 1984 has come and gone, but don't keep reminding me: I want to maintain some shred of dignity. And I'm still mad about my age; I'm considering counting backward, from now on.

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bartram's flower

Bartram's Flower

A play by Young Friends of Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting
Gaia House, Interfaith Center
Sun. June 13 11:30 AM
all welcome


Friday, June 04, 2010

office pool (world cup)

OK so Bill, one of our teachers, printed up a pool for basically gambling on the World Cup. It's not really gambling, because no money is involved, though maybe he'll get a prize of some kind for the winner, which in any case can't be a teacher. And, to tell you the truth, none of my students would take my advice anyway, since I'm an American, and have absolutely no instincts for how to, say, predict a draw, or know when a team like Serbia has an edge. None. My advice is virtually worthless.

The pool is actually complex and lots of students don't really understand it. In any given group, say group C, you have to predict whether each game (Group C has six in the first round) will be won or drawn, and, if won, won by whom. Then, you rank in order 6 to 1, whic outcome you are most sure of. If you are bloody sure the USA will beat England, then you might give that outcome a 6, and relegate to 1 some draw that you really aren't so sure of, like maybe USA and Algeria.

I say all this tongue in cheek because, a) my brother lives in England, which is heavily favoUred against the USA actually, but if the USA has any grudge match, or someone they might LOVE to beat, it could be England, and b) most of my students who really know this stuff are Saudi and seem to be pulling for Algeria although smart money seems to be saying that the USA can beat them.

So I filled out my form with whatever predictions I had; I might share them, but then found out that it wasn't due until TH, which would give me some time to actually learn a little more, before I hand in my most educated guess. Here's a little of what I've learned so far:

They call Group G the "Group of Death" because Brazil can kill anyone, but both Portugal and Cote d'Ivoire are highly respected, really good, and North Korea is acting like it can beat anybody, and some people believe them. But Cote d'Ivoire just lost a star. This kind of gives a tilt toward Portugal, but I have a natural inclination toward the Cote; I'm kind of stuck here. And by the way, they want to be called Cote d' that so hard? I think it's bloody anglocentric to insist on giving them our own name.

They call group D "deep" and difficult to call...I'm still getting to the bottom of this; there are lots of groups where I'm just now finding out the FIFA rankings, or what you could call received wisdom about what might happen. The wild card for me is when to predict a draw. How often does this really happen? My experience says, maybe 20% of games tops. But that's more than a guy like me is likely to predict; I'm not likely to give a six to any "D" prediction since in my own little win/lose world draws are highly unlikely. Yet I also don't know what the scorer does with the 6 I just gave to my other prediction: do I get 60 for getting it right? or 6? If I predict a draw correctly, and then give it a 6, I should get double, then the whole thing times 6, or maybe to the sixth power. Seriously, I have no idea how it's scored. All I know is, I have to rethink this Mexico-South Africa game.

My Japanese student says, don't bet on Japan. My African student says Ghana, Nigeria and the Cote will make it to round 2, but not Cameroon or South Africa. Honduras and New Zealand appear to be nobodies in the public estimation, but I met a guy on a plane out of O'Hare one time that would dispute at least half of that assertion, back when Honduras was playing the USA in the qualifying rounds and at least half the plane was wearing Honduran coloUrs. I tend to favor the teams up and down the Americas, and I guess the USA and Honduras worked together to boot poor Costa Rica out of there, but there's still Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and of course Brazil, and, my student from Chile is wearing a sly smile these days; I think he's pretty sure his team is going to round 2. I'm with him; I'm betting on Chile, but other teams, like Slovenia, Slovakia, Denmark, Greece: how does one figure out whether these teams will win or draw? Your guess is as good as mine...or, more likely, better than mine.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

world cup returneth

As a kind of welcome relief from day-to-day seriousness of language learning, vocabulary-building, reading skills, etc., it's good to once in a while embrace the pure enthusiasm of a world of soccer fans, caught up in the big tournament, due to start in South Africa in about ten days. It's an odd thing, but my computer doesn't let me copy & paste site where I go to "matches" and inspect the schedule. Here is a little background.

Because I teach ESL and speak to my students a lot, I can, if possible, know more about who is likely to win, because I can always ask the right questions (if I learn them), and, over the course of twenty or so years, I've gotten better at it. I am still quite a novice, by international standards of course, being an American and instinctively reaching out a hand whenever a ball comes my way. But, slowly, I've come to love the World Cup, and I've also come to notice its steadily growing popularity among Americans. Nowadays, you can find Americans talking about it, and trying to learn who is likely to win in any given group.

From the schedule, we can learn several interesting things: first, North Korea (group G) is probably the most surprising entry; Americans will have to learn the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia; matches are being played in towns such as Nelspruit, Polokwane and Manguang, places I should have heard of, but haven't; the USA is in group C so plays as its first opponents England, Slovenia, and Algeria; South Africa starts with the first game (match?) on the 11th but then matches move steadily, two at a time, down the groups so that as soon as A is done, B is playing (two); then C, then D etc. until it starts again at the top. This is how it's always been done, apparently; I'm just getting used to it.

Again, I have students who are excited about certain teams for whatever reason, and many, having adopted the USA as their residence, are pulling for us. The Saudi students like Algeria, which is the closest you can get to the Gulf, apparently; Korean and Japanese students are represented; I have a Chilean student; I have friends or relatives in or from many of the other countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Honduras, Italy, Germany, Ghana, England and Australia. I tend to like the African teams, though (even though Ghana beat us last year) and remember the first year Cameroon made it in there, and how excited that made the African students. It's exciting; I hope my kids can see some of it, though I never have time for even baseball, so I'm not sure how I'll pull that off. One person abroad said: try I can't imagine how; apparently its a site, these days, where you watch some things. Don't tell anyone I told you though. If I have time, I'll check it out myself.