Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interesting events

I’ve had a couple of evening engagements this week that have been interesting. The first was Tuesday night at Pius X High School, where I spoke for about 45 minutes to a group of around 100 parents. I gave them some of my usual advice about some of the risks that teens face, and what parents can do to minimize those.

One of the interesting things about this visit to me was to briefly reflect with the audience on how things have changed. I think most people think that drugs, sex, alcohol are all much worse today. My perspective is different: I think it’s actually a little bit better—at least in this age group. Why do I think that? Two sources: data, and anecdote. The data comes from sources like the UNL Omnibus survey, and from the Lincoln/Lancaster County Youth Behavior Risk Survey. The anecdotes comes from many years of reviewing job applicants’ background investigations and polygraphs exams. I think you really get a feel for the bad things that basically good people have done.

Don’t get me wrong, the world is still a prickly place for teenageers, I just happen to believe that it is ever-so-slightly less scary today than a decade or two ago. One of the glaring exceptions to that is the whole range of new risks posed by young people (not to mention adults) leaving all sorts of indelible markings about their indiscretions in the bits and bytes that will never go away.

The second was Wednesday night, when I was a guest at Dr. John Bender’s class, Journalism 414: Government Controls of Information. It’s a once-a-week class, and a small one, so I had plenty of time to dialog with the students. They are reading a couple of books for the class that are on my list: David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Killing Streets, and John Grisham’s lone non-fiction work: The Innocent Man.

I did my duty by passing on the obligatory information about the kinds of public records that police agencies keep, some of the things you can potentially learn from this information or do with it as a reporter, and where to go looking for it. But I most enjoyed chatting with them about these two books, and recommending another Grisham novel, Playing for Pizza. An airline flight attendant recommended it to me while I was dallying in a terminal bookstore on my way to Seattle last year. Hardly your average Grisham page-turner, I enjoyed it tremendously, and it made me hungry.


Average Person said...

I really liked the Grisham book - "An Innocent Man". I always thought such a thing could never happen here in Lincoln. Then my eyes were opened up by a couple of cases where the system seemed to fail an innocent person. It seems that the system isn't perfect and never will be since it is run by us humans.

Tom Casady said...


Sorry, I had to block your comment. Too much information, which could fall into the hands of devious-minded people. I'm going to see if we can do something about this, though. Thanks.

JIM J said...

The Internet has way too much information about people. Local Govt should have registration for users of sites like parking ticket look up, accident reports, marriage license search ect. I agree the information I provided could land in the hands of the wrong people. That is why I only have shared it with you. I think you used good discretion in not posting my prior comment, which further protects the public. There are many innocent people who could become a victim with all that is out there. Govt must weigh right to know with safety of the public. I do not think further restriction is the answer. I think registering the users, along with resuming name search on accident reports would be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I never thought name search was needed for accident reports. Perhaps by date with a plate number as well. If you were involved in a collision, you'd know both the date as well as your plate number. Requiring both items to initiate each search would eliminate most of the devious data miners. You could still brute-force it, if (for instance) you were a violent nut looking for your estranged ex's address and/or phone number, by checking days one by one, if you knew their plate number too, and just hope they'd had an accident since you lost track of them. You'd have to have a lot of free time, but some of those people can be quite obsessive.

Trevor Brass said...

Will there ever be a point where nearly everyone has digital dirt of some sort on them? Employers can't just reject everyone off-hand if lots of qualified candidates otherwise have the right marks.

Steve said...

I don't do a lot of reading, but given the recommendations here, I may look into the Grisham books that were mentioned.

I realize the possible consequences of making information available to the public. However, my gut feeling is that providing the information is not the problem. The problem is that some people will use that information for illegal purposes. The answer, in my opinion, is to punish illegal behaviors so that the risk of being caught outweighs the benefits. It won't stop everyone from breaking the law. But, it would remove so many of our "deviants" from society (putting them behind bars), that the rest of us (law abiding citizens) could live in relative peace and harmony.

Anonymous said...

The internet is like a large audience where clowns can meet. Debate is healthy and funny.