Stop the Press!! Facebook Places

You may have heard about about Facebook’s newest endeavor – Facebook Places.  Along with this comes the inevitable hubbub over Facebook changing privacy defaults, who can see your information, etc.  Considering Facebook’s history, this concern is certainly justifiable.  In this case, however, there is really no cause for alarm.

First, what exactly is Facebook Places?  Simply put, it’s an application for smart phones (I think it’s currently only for the iPhone) that lets you “check in” to different places.  Why would you do that?  Well, the Facebook blog has an entry on the whole thing but it’s basically a way for you to let your friends know where you are in the off chance that someone else is there too, or you simply want people to know in order to feed your egostic and their voyeuristic ways.  But I digress….

The concern comes by tossing in a little misinformation with some already-on-edge doubt about Facebook’s privacy policies and you have a recipe for hastily forwarded e-mails.  The main gist of the concerns I’ve read is that anyone can now see where you are logged in, complete with address and map.  Are you logged in at home?  All your friends know where you are.  Logged in at the library?  Better hope your friends aren’t the loud, partying kind since they know where to find you and could show up at your bookshelf any minute.  Or perhaps that devious friend of yours has been waiting to break into your house while you’re away.  Now they know when to strike!

All of this is, of course, entirely false, tongue firmly planted in cheek.  As mentioned before, this application is only for smart phones and only for those people who actively choose to “check in” to various places.   If you don’t update via phone, don’t worry about it.  If you do update by phone, but choose not to use the application, don’t worry about it.  Actually, I do need to add that someone else can tag you at a certain place but there’s really nothing you can do about that.  Except maybe ask not to be tagged.

One other thing to mention is that usually in the forwarded e-mails or Facebook statuses, there are directions to “opt out” of this terrible violation of privacy.  The directions, while technically true, only give half the steps.  If you don’t want to be notified when someone tags you at a place or comments on your visit to a place, do the following:  go to Account, Account Settings, Notifications, scroll to Places (near the bottom) and uncheck the two boxes.  Be sure to click Save.  But remember, this simply stops you from being notified via e-mail when someone tags you at a place.  This does not change who sees where you “check in” to, in the event you choose to participate in Places.  The default setting for this is “Friends Only” but if you want to change this or double check, go to Account, Privacy Settings, click on Customize Settings.  Near the bottom, you can change the “Places I check in to” to whomever you want to see your places.

And that’s all for this edition of Stop the Press!!  Join us next week as we look at whether or not to go ballistic over a certain thing being proposed in NY.  (JUST KIDDING!!  There’s no way I’m going near that discussion.  Even I have my limits.)

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Outrage, context and jumping to conclusions

Imagine you are going shopping.  On a hot, muggy late August day you pull into the parking lot and stroll into the mall breathing a sigh of relief as you feel the rush of cool air hit you.  But that sigh gets caught in your throat as you glance over to the first store window and see the following notice:

“We will be closed on Friday, September 11, 2009 to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali.”

Did you read that right?  The store will be closing to commemorate a Muslim who died on September 11?  The immediate conclusion you might reach is that here was a store whose owners are CELEBRATING the tragic events of 9/11/01 and COMMEMORATING as a martyr one of the terrorists responsible.  What an outrage, right?!!  Why, you ought to march right into that store and give that Muslim a piece of your mind!!  Or better yet, tell everyone you know to boycott the store.  This is America!!  Capitalism at work!!  Drive these guys out of the country!!

Stop.  Breathe.

Go back and read the title of this post.  Got it?  Okay, let’s proceed.

First, yes, this really happened in Houston, Texas.  Imagine the surprise and shock Imran Chunawala, manager of The Perfume Planet, received when he and his store were the targets of such outrage.  Why would he be outraged? you might ask.  Did he really think people would be fine with him commemorating one of the most tragic events on American soil?

Stop.  Breathe.

So why would the store manager be surprised?  Perhaps it’s because Imam Ali was not one of the 9/11/01 terrorists.  Imam (a religious title) Ali was a Muslim who was attacked and killed while praying in a mosque on the 19th day of Ramadan – in the 7th century.  He died two days later, the 21st day of Ramadan.  According to Wikipedia, he was the guy responsible for splitting the Muslim community into the Sunni and Shi’a branches.  He also happened to be the cousin and son-in-law to the prophet Muhammed.

According to Snopes, “Since the Islamic calendar is based on lunar months with years of 354 or 355 days, the months of the Islamic calendar move around from year to year with respect to the Gregorian calendar [the one used by most of the Western world].”  Every year during Ramadan, the Islamic community honors Imam Ali on the 21st day of Ramadan, the day of his death.  In 2009, Ramadan began on August 22 which put the 21st day of Ramadan on, you guessed it — September 11.

Even though the store owner has put up a new sign in an attempt to explain who it was they were honoring, the employees and owner of the store still remain the targets of hostility.

Hopefully, the point of all this is obvious.  For some odd reason, it’s easy to believe every little negative tale about our public enemy of the moment – whether it’s Muslims (who seem to bear the brunt of many such tales), Democrats, Obama, illegal immigrants, big shot corporate CEOs, or a myriad other choices that can change with the wind.  However, more often than not a little knowledge is, in many cases, a safe thing.  Let’s not be so quick to accept the latest tale of dastardly deeds or malicious motives.

Remember, look before you leap.

The Highway of Heroes

This is from Tim Challies’ blog and well worth the read.

Yesterday I had to drive down to Buffalo to pick up my sister and my niece who are up here for a short visit. I pulled onto the highway and, as I did so, noticed that parked on the overpass was a pair of firetrucks and a few police cars. Lining the bridge facing east was a crowd of people, holding flags and standing solemnly. As I joined traffic I noticed that on the bridge ahead of me was another crowd, much the same as the last one–firefighters, police officers, citizens, flags. I remembered then that somewhere behind me, driving out of Toronto and toward Brantford, was a convoy carrying one of Canada’s fallen soldiers. Trooper Larry Rudd Rudd was based with the Royal Canadian Dragoons and was recently killed by an explosion, becoming the 146th member of the Canadian military to die in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. And yesterday morning he was driven back to his hometown.

The Highway of Heroes is a new Canadian tradition and one that is grassroots to its core. Just a few years old, the tradition has picked up steam in the past few months.

When a soldier loses his life in service overseas, his body is sent back to Canada in a flag-draped casket, arriving at Trenton Air Force Base. The family of the fallen soldier waits here and, as the body is taken from the plane, stands through a short ceremony. The body is then taken to the Centre for Forensic Sciences in Toronto, some 100 miles distant. And this is where a fascinating little tradition cropped up. Average citizens, with some members of emergency services, began to stand on the overpasses en route as the bodies were driven along the highway–100 miles’ worth of overpasses. What started as just a few people on a few bridges quickly grew into a new tradition with hundreds or even thousands of people participating.

This video tribute to the soldiers raised awareness not only of the war in Afghanistan, but also the new tradition that had arisen around it.

As a result of this new movement, a position convinced Ontario’s government to rename that section of highway leading from Trenton to Ontario. As of September 2007 it is officially known as The Highway of Heroes.

And though Rudd was driven down the official stretch of the Highway of Heroes a couple of days ago, yesterday was the day he was taken to a funeral home in his home town. Even along a different stretch of highway, all the way through Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton and Brantford, Canadians came out to pay tribute. I found it very stirring to drive along and to see all those people waiting, paying their respects to one of our nation’s heroes.

To understand the importance of the Highway of Heroes you have to understand that Canadians are not known for their patriotism. A relatively quiet and humble nation, Canadians do not have an equivalent to a song like “Proud to Be an American.” We do not have the equivlent to the chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Yes, most Canadians have some sense of patriotism, of national pride, but it is usually quite subdued. It also bears mention that few Canadians support the war in Afghanistan. Most see it as an American war and one that we have little business being involved in. And yet Canadians are still eager to support the troops and to honor them for their willingness to put their lives on the line in their duty to the nation.

Somehow the whole Highways of Heroes phenomenon seems strange to me, it seems un-Canadian; it is just so unusual, so unexpected. And yet I am glad for it; I’m proud of it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud to be Canadian as I was as I drove along yesterday, seeing those flags draped and all those people standing at respectful attention.

Up the creek without a boat

Noah’s Ark has been found…again.  According to recent news reports, “a group of Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers say wooden remains they have discovered on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey are the remains of Noah’s Ark.”

Not surprisingly, it is already being called a hoax.

My question is, why are people even looking for the ark in the first place?  If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that they search for the ark in the belief that when it’s found, this would put the last nail in the coffin for modern skepticism and evolution.  This is certainly a noble cause, but one that is also naïve.  It’s based on the assumption that evolutionists deny the account of the Flood and Noah’s Ark.  However, this simply isn’t the case with many evolutionists.  A belief in a flood of epic proportions is mentioned in many various traditions other than the Bible, most notably of which is the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Further, finding a large boat would give veracity to the Biblical account of the flood, but it would not even come close to settling the disputes between whether or not the flood was global or local, or whether the flood caused each and every instance of fossilization.  Simply put, skeptics would simply say, “Congratulations, you’ve found a boat.”

I would argue that finding the ark is very highly improbable.  Not impossible, but as close to it as you can get.  People who want the ark found make one huge glaring assumption.  They assume that the ark is still there, wherever “there” is.

Imagine that you and your family have just ridden out the worst flood in history.  Every inch of land, rocks and trees was covered with who knows how much water.  The boat finally comes to rest and eventually everybody gets off to what is now a desolate earth.  Now it’s time to start over, to start working the earth, to rebuild your lives – and your houses.  Remember, every tree for miles is probably ruined and useless for building a house. But fortunately, you have a source for good, strong, wood – your boat.  Imagine how much wood a three-story tall 450’ x 75’ boat would have!  How much wood would a…oh, never mind.

Too often, we get a picture of Noah and his family coming off the ark to a somewhat water-logged, but otherwise okay world, complete with trees ready to be used. Those who are looking for the ark forget that Noah and/or his descendants lived in the nearby area and would need what the ark had in abundance – building material.  The ark that had saved them from the waters would now help to shelter them as they began life again.   The ark will never be found because it no longer exists in one piece.

Which table would you rather sit in on?

Here’s a very fascinating scenario.  Which table would you rather sit at and why?

At Table 1, you’ve got (clockwise from the top) Eisenhower, T. Roosevelt, Nixon, Ford, Lincoln, Bush Sr., Reagan, & Bush Jr.

At Table 2, there is (clockwise from the top) Clinton, Wilson, L. Johnson, Truman, Jackson, F. Roosevelt, Carter, & Kennedy.

HT: James.

Bloggers, Freebies and the FTC

FTC issues rules to end ‘blogger payola’

Bloggers — particularly “mommy bloggers” — must now disclose freebies or money they receive to review products or risk an $11,000 fine per post, the Federal Trade Commission announced today. It’s the first attempt to regulate what’s known as “blogger payola.”

The rules take effect Dec. 1. Bloggers or advertisers also could face injunctions and be ordered to reimburse consumers for financial losses stemming from product reviews deemed inappropriate.

The FTC said disclosures must be “clear and conspicuous” but did not specifically state how conflicts of interest must be disclosed.

An FTC spokesman said the commission will more likely go after advertisers instead of bloggers, except for those who runs a “substantial” operation that violates FTC rules and already have received a warning.

Here are relevant paragraphs from the FTC’s news release:

Under the revised Guides, advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect. In contrast to the 1980 version of the Guides — which allowed advertisers to describe unusual results in a testimonial as long as they included a disclaimer such as “results not typical” — the revised Guides no longer contain this safe harbor.

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement — like any other advertisement — is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.

The FTC spokesman offered this example of what would not be a violation: someone who gets a free bag of dog food as part of a broad promotion from a pet shop and writes about the product on a blog.

ReadWriteWeb addresses the difficulty in policing unscrupulous bloggers and advertisers:

While the FTC will obviously have a hard time enforcing these regulations, there can be no doubt that marketers regularly approach independent bloggers (and especially mommy bloggers) with freebies. When bloggers accept these exchanges, they may not always disclose them in the posts that result. So, while bloggers who are involved in these schemes often tend to say that they would have reviewed the product anyway or that their reviews are often critical, there can be little doubt that payments and freebies influence these stories.

These new rules and rather large fines should bring some bloggers and marketers into line, though others will surely continue to push the ethical boundaries. And blogging Payola is unlikely to go away completely because of these new rules.

Federal rules already ban deceptive and unfair business practices. It’s the first time since 1980 that the FTC revised the guidelines on endorsements and testimonials.

On Tornadoes, Piper, and Godwin’s Law

[Just came across this article by way of Challies.com.  Well worth the read]

On Tornadoes, Piper, and Godwin’s Law

Crash, Bang!

In case you missed it, there were some storms last week. First there was a tornado.

Then John Piper offered an interpretation of the tornado and a bigger storm hit. In a mere 24 hours, there were hundreds of comments, thousands of tweets, and dozens of counter-posts by pastors (Boyd, Jones), professors (McKight), and others (Spencer, Kinnon, Coker).

I have no desire to further the debate over whether Dr. Piper’s assessment was correct. Personally, I think John Piper has served the Lord well in his time on earth, and any critique I would offer of his ministry would amount to little more than a baby whale spouting next to an aircraft carrier. What I am interested in is what we can learn from the story of Piper and his critics about Internet theological discourse regarding contentious issues.

Godwin’s Law for Christian Discourse

When it comes to Internet theological debate on hot topics, there seems to be a sort of Christian Godwin’s Law at work. If you’re not familiar with it, Godwin’s Law was humorously submitted by Mike Godwin almost 20 years ago in the early days of the Internet. It states:

As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

In other words, debates will inevitably end with one person comparing the other person’s views to Hitler. It turns out that if you replace “Hitler” with “heresy,” you’d describe about 86% of debates on Christian blogs and forums on hot topics. In the case of Piper, he made a similar argument about calamities previously, but no one seemed to notice since it didn’t touch a contentious issue. However, when he made a case that addressed the issue of homosexuality, the “h” word came out within hours.

Now we could dismiss this by saying that people argue on any medium. And that’s true – remember Cain and Abel? But I think that the Internet itself, for all its strengths and all the promise it offers, is uniquely suited toward pushing these controversial debates further and further, and below I offer three such reasons why this is almost always the inevitable result.

[Continue reading here]