Yo-Yo Ma on NPR’s “This I Believe”

And this I, too, believe…

As part of All Things Considered, NPR and Jay Allison have (re-)created a “This I believe” segment, based on a 1950s radio program of the same name that was hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. The purpose of the show is to ask individuals of a variety of backgrounds to write in a 500-word essay about things they believe in. Here is their own explanation about the raison d’etre of the show.

I would like to feature the “This I Believe” essay from Yo-Yo Ma, done on March 10, 2008:

Yo-Yo Ma highlights at the outset his tri-cultural background: born in Paris, parents from China and raised in America. I clearly feel some commonality in my tri-cultural upbringing: my English schooling, American parents and French wife (and company).

In his tri-cultural being, Yo-Yo Ma fuses the cultural depth and longevity of the Chinese, the deep artistic tradition of the French and the American commitment to opportunity and the future. Sharing 2 of the three same cultures, my spin is a bit different. I think of the critical thinking of the French, the resistance [and sense of humour] of the British and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans. And, to the extent that travel enables you to appreciate all the more what you have at home, I truly share with Yo-Yo Ma, the idea of attempting to take the best from each culture.

And at the centre of all multicultural meetings, music takes its place as a federating, if not uniting language. I think of the powerful story “Silent Night” (The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce, by Mr Stanley Weintraub – full text of the book here) where in a veritable lull in the storm, the Germans and Allied soldiers sang Christmas carols together and played a football match in no man’s land in 1914 (and in subsequent years as well). Find “Silent Night” on Amazon. As Yo-Yo Ma suggests, when strangers meet, music helps you to cross borders.

The very first quote is wonderful: “I believe in the infinite variety of human expression.” Clearly, this is the heart of diversity. And I finish by quoting Yo-Yo Ma’s last sentence: “As we struggle to find our individual voices, I believe we must look beyond the voice we’ve been assigned and find our place among the tones and timbre of human expression.” Lyrical stuff.
What do you believe in? What are the best of the cultures to which you belong?
Others who have blogged before on the Yo-Yo Ma essay:
The Opinion (right or wrong) of Lee Malatesta – A long and wide-ranging piece that covers democracy, philosohpy and the impact of music…
Combating Craziness – A Czech musician’s languor for good music…

NPR discusses Facebook Privacy…again

The issue of privacy continues to dominate the offline discussion on Facebook.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Science Friday, 21 March 2008, featured a special on Facebook, and the big privacy question. Hosted by Ira Flatow, the show featured Daniel Weitzner (WWW Consortium)*, and Alessandro Acquisti (Carnegie Mellon)** as well as Emily Vander Veer, author of “Facebook: The Missing Manual” (O’Reilly Press, 2008).

Facebook now claims to have 69 million active users with 250,000 new registrations per day.

Emily Vander Veer started by stating that it is not possible to use Facebook and still be private, despite switches and toggles that allow a user to customize his/her own privacy settings. Only 1 out of 4 Facebook users is aware of these administrative privacy measures and most people don’t alter the filter settings. Moreover, as Alessandro Acquisti said on the show, when there are too many choices, there are sub-optimum results [useful to consider in retail environments as well in terms of giving a consumer too many choices].

The moral of the story is that if you don’t want something to be public, don’t put it up on line. I believe that Facebook will help educate people to the nature of having a public profile on line. The new generation (Y) will clearly help craft new habits and attitudes, despite the baby boomers’ cautioning.

The Pew Research Center has determined that people have subtle expectations about the level of privacy of the information available on line. Obviously, just in America alone, there is much work to be done to manage what is a dynamic sense of what is private. The adaptation to international cultures will require even more work.

In order to ensure its longevity, Facebook must understand that it has a responsibility to facilitate the privacy settings and, more importantly, its user base’s understanding of online privacy. For example, Facebook ought to allow people to understand how other people [users] are using their identity. After receiving a notification of someone else tagging a photo of you, you ought to have the choice to accept or block it. If Facebook does not take such proactive steps, there is the ominous risk that the government may feel inclined to intervene.

As they say on the NPR show, Facebook is not free. It is paid for with your personal information (aka your face). Since there is no vetting process, you are likely to have “pay the price.” But like most things in life, one must learn to adapt. I have long subscribed to the notion that your online presence will be your CV. So, it must be managed accordingly. But on balance, it is better to have a presence than not to have one.

Recently, Facebook has made a privacy “upgrade” whereby you can now classify people as either friendly friends or work friends, etc. Of course, this is a tricky operation post-factum to reclassify who goes where – without pissing them off, that is. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

So, where does that leave us? Are you a Facebook pro or con? Where does the responsibility lie in managing one’s privacy?

* Weitzner is Co-Director, MIT CSAIL Decentralized Information Group and W3C Technology and Society Policy Director
** Acquisti is Co-editor of the book “Digital Privacy: Theory, Technologies, and Practices” (AUERBACH , 2007) and Assistant Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy, H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Births out of wedlock

In France, it was announced (see here in the NY Sun!) by INSEE, the Paris-based national statistics agency, that in 2007, for the first time, the number of babies born out of wedlock eclipsed 50% (hitting 50.5%). That sent me scurrying across the web to find comparative stats. I was not sure, but I assumed that France was not alone in that trend. And that is an understatement. The trend is international. And quite a statement on the plight of marriage, as well as on the state of society.

Here is what I found out.

In the UK, this BBC report from 2004 said that the rate in Britain had reached 42%. But it is Sweden that leads all EU countries with around 53% (see Eurostat graphic to right). Sweden (red line on top) was already at 52% in 1995. France (green line) has been the second highest in Europe since the mid-1980s. Some good info on this Demographic Blog, and a comprehensive recent post on Demography Matters.

In the US, per 2005 CDC Gov stats, the percentage is 36.9%. Who makes up that 37% is not easy to piece together. But, already on the immigration front, courtesy of the Center for Immigration site, I have the following details and quotes:

  • Hispanic immigrants have seen the largest increase in out-of-wedlock births — from 19 percent of births in 1980 to 42 percent in 2003. This is important because Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of all births to immigrants.

  • In addition to the 42 percent rate for Hispanic immigrants, the illegitimacy rate is now 39 percent for black immigrants, 11 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 12 percent for white immigrants.

  • There’s no indication of improvement over the generations. Among natives, the illegitimacy rate is 50 percent for Hispanics; 30 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 24 percent for whites.

  • There is no evidence that illegitimacy is related to legal status. Illegitimacy is common in many immigrant-sending counties. According to the UN, in Mexico and Canada the illegitimacy rate is 38 percent; in El Salvador it’s 73 percent; and it’s 86 percent in Jamaica

Per this CITY, Hispanic Family Values article, there is clearly a lot of concern with regard this trend of births out of wedlock in the Hispanic community. And I quote from this article, “[E]very 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for every 1,000 unmarried white women, 22 for every 1,000 unmarried Asian women, and 66 for every 1,000 unmarried black women. Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births. Only the percentage of black out-of-wedlock births—68 percent—exceeds the Hispanic rate.” This NPR podcast deals further with the situation for Black Americans.

Perhaps another area that deserves highlighting is the appallingly high number of teen births in the US. This article from Breitbart.com says the following:

“The birth rate among teenagers [in the U.S.] declined 2 percent in 2005, continuing a trend from the early 1990s. The rate is now about 40 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. That is the lowest level in the 65 years for which a consistent series of rates is available. The U.S. teen birth rate is still the highest among industrialized countries.”

Looking at births out of wedlock, in general, the most critical issue may just be the existence of a loving couple to bring up that child. But between the high numbers of teen births and the high divorce rates, not to mention out-of-wedlock births, there is surely a new paradigm shift underway in terms of the composition of family. Apparently, Gen Yers are placing high(er) esteem on traditional values of family and are now looking for guidance and mentors. It would seem that there is a lot of work to be done on all fronts to create a successful concept/image of long-term marriage, new economic models and incentives and, above all, EDUCATION for what is, as far as teen and out-of-wedlock births are concerned, an over-weighted phenomenon in under-educated classes.

New York Assembly refuses Manhattan congestion charge

The refusal of the NY Assembly to implement a congestion charge ($4 for cars and $21 for trucks aka lorries) is a shame. The only amendment I would have recommended would have been to increase the charge on SUVs (I have long been an anti-SUVist). I have been applauding from afar the efforts in NY to improve the quality of life. Even though people in London may not all enjoy paying the congestion charge, it does seem to have reduced inner city traffic and encouraged more bicicyles and public transportation. Part of Bloomberg’s 127 point environmental program, the congestion charge was clearly one of the pinnacle measures. As NYC continues to attract new inhabitants (expected to add another one million people over the next 20 years), Bloomberg is right to act now. While some may well be claiming the motivation of his program is a higher political ambition, as far as I am concerned, the program has every right to exist. Having a clean, ‘crime-free’ [more like crime-reduced] New York was Giuliani’s legacy. Aiming to have a clean air, congestion-free New York is Bloomberg’s intended legacy. Some 40% of the 127 measures will require legislative approval. Per an NPR interview, the proposal includes “buying cleaner school buses, cracking down on idling cars, and incentives to make older buildings more energy efficient. New construction would also have to be 20 percent more efficient than currently required…” While I haven’t read the entire manifesto, I cast my vote in favor in principle. I hope that the other measures get a favorable treatment.