Saturday, February 06, 2016

Maryland considers bill banning consumer gag clauses; so should US House

A bill in Maryland would prohibit companies from placing “gag clauses” in consumer contracts, forbidding them to make online reviews.  That bill is HB 131 and follows a similar law in California. Electronic Frontier reports in a story by Elliot Harmon

The Senate has passed a Consumer Review Freedom Act (S. 2044)  which is stalled as HR 2110 in the House.

Courts generally have been siding with consumers in these cases, which generally come from Yelp! and sometimes Angie’s List.  Actual suits from Facebook posts, tweets, or personal blog posts seem less likely in practice, but probably are covered by these clauses.

I would be particularly concerned about the practice, say, if it occurred in housing or apartment or house rentals.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Happy 12th Birthday, Facebook!

Facebook is celebrating its twelfth birthday today.  On Wednesday, February 4, 2004, a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg hit “enter” on a dorm room computer (don’t know if it was Windows XP or Mac, or even Linux) and Facebook emerged, as if from some virtual womb, by a kind of immaculate conception.  (February 4, 1999 was an infamous day for employees at Prudential: a big layoff, in a year of Y2K.)

Today, Facebook broadcast a live feed of Zuckerberg talking to some fellow managers at the Palo Alto headquarters.  Zuckerberg made a comment that he soon found that older computer users were not as interested in personal interactions online as were college students, but seemed to hint that many mid-life and senior people did use the Internet to self-publish and be noticed, in the Web 1.0 world.  Since military recruiting had become a controversy at Harvard in the months preceding his launch of Facebook, it seems to me he must have been aware of it, and it is very likely he would have found my “Web 1.0” domain with ordinary surfing in his dorm space, as it was quite prominent in search engines at the time.

Facebook, by 2008 or 2009, would completely eclipse MySpace as the most important social networking forum (and Time would name Zuckerberg as person of the year in 2010 as “the Connector”), even given all the attention “Dr. Phil” used to give to teenagers using MySpace.  The idea of whitelisting people who would likely see content, and layering social interactions as to continuity, would soon run in parallel to Facebook as a self-publishing platform, for user “pages” (for “public figures”, “musicians”, etc.) and for discussion groups or forums.  It strikes me that Facebook could take on the “opposing viewpoints” idea I’ve discussed here before (like Feb. 29, 2012).  It certainly has the database architecture to handle apps set up to so this.

When I make comments on Facebook pages, people often make constructive secondary quality comments on mine.  This is in stark contrast to my own blogs, where comments tend to be patronizing at best, or spammy (and are often filtered out, as by Akismet). For example, consider the discussion of “socialism”, “crony capitalism” and the free market here.  Look here at the debate on a Vox post on voters being open to political revolution to redistribute wealth.    Does this mean expropriation?

I would even buy the idea that Facebook has saved Section 230, and the world of user-generated content as we know it.

In 2020, Zuckerberg will be old enough to run for president.  He could put Donald Trump to shame if he wanted to.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

2008 photo of girl with Down syndrome at a baseball game, promoted as an example of "obesity" and "child abuse", leads to lawsuit

A Facebook post has led to a lawsuit for causing severe emotional distress, defamation, and invasion of privacy.  “Dancing with the Stars” celebrity Val Chmerkovskiy is being sued by a 16 year old girl over a picture taken of her in 2008 at a baseball game.  The picture was put into a Facebook post that said “Everything that’s wrong with America” as an attempt to criticize diet-related obesity.  But the girl has Down Syndrome.  The post claimed that a parent’s allowing a kid to become obese was child abuse.

Some of the claims (like invasion of privacy) would be hard to sustain because she was in a public place.

TMZ has a typical news story here.

But CBS News is also a defendant, for posting the picture.  It would appear that the litigation would not be taking place if CBS had not posted it.  The actual picture was taken by a different photographer (also a defendant) and was in a refreshment area.

Lawsuits based on individual social media postings taken at public venues seem to be rare.  But in bars and discos, the expected standard of courtesy has risen in the past few years (since about 2010) because of the possibility of tagging.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Facebook's ban on gun sales sounds like common sense

The New York Times has commended Facebook for banning gun ads in an editorial Monday

I found the comment that Facebook came late into the world of “person-to-person commerce” interesting, compared to Craigslist, which has long banned gun sales.  And the ban, if observed by users, might prevent some tragedies, since the sales had been outside the control of laws requiring background checks, even with Obama’s new order.

I remember one time in 1985 selling two gold krugerands person-person at a clandestine meeting in East Dallas.  It’s no something I’m into, because, maybe a bit sheltered, I haven’t opted for the sharing economy.

As for public safety, I think it's a bit of a tradeoff, even if "the common good" is the objective.  The public as a whole might be safer from ordinary crime with stricter gun control, but might be more vulnerable to very determined criminals and terrorists.  That distinction is less in countries where gun ownership is higher. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to be moral, and creative at the same time (when you're being raised)

The New York Times has a couple of interesting columns by Adam Grant on raising kids and dealing wit expectations, both shared on Facebook this Sunday morning.

One of these is “Raising a Moral Child”.  Part of the issue presented is learning sharing behavior, which seems to be partly but not completely inherited.  Being a social creature is partly pre-programmed, but much less for humans than for say, dolphins and orcas.  So, maybe not everything in life is about “choice”.  But making bad choices should have consequences.  The article distinguishes between “shame” and “guilt”.  The latter is depicted as related to a specific act, and seen as a good thing,  But “shame” is associated with powerlessness and insignificance, to being expected to be at the disposal of the whims of others.  This certainly happens with sexual (and spousal) abuse, usually but not always of women.  It also happens in a political context.  One of the reasons that the West Bank situation is so intractable is that Palestinians living there believe they are forced into shame, because land can be taken for them at a whim.  So shame is understandably a most unacceptable emotion.

Paul Rosenfels (Book reviews, April 12, 2006) had considered "shame" a "feminine" emotion and "guilt" the masculine counterpart, with equal moral weight.

The other is “How to raise a creative child: Step One: Back Off”.  This gets to be dicey and tracks back to morality.  “Creative” kids naturally may want to spend their energies on activities that get them the most reward and recognition.  In a field like music, for example, some people find there is tension between the time spent in practicing (so that technique is good enough for public recognition and maybe a career in performance) and sometimes in creating one’s own content (composing), which for an adult leads to the whole world of commission for composition (drama and music blog. Jan. 19).  Likewise, in drama, there is tension between acting (as in a school or church play or even someone else’s film) and writing one’s own material (Jesse Eisenberg seems to be navigating that pretty well lately, whereas a few young actors, like Richard Harmon, have shown phenomenal capacity for hard work in volumes).  In the sciences  and technology , we have some interesting examples of prodigies:  both Andraka brothers, Mark Zuckerberg, Taylor Wilson, Param Jaggi.  Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes about 10,000 hours to be good enough at anything to pay your own way in life with the talent, and a lot of kids are not allowed that kind of time. But there is also tension with spending effort and time in one’s own talents, and in meeting the immediate needs of others, in family chores, or what the Army used to call “social graces”.  This became a huge “moral” issue for me four decades ago. You owe back for what you take.  It’s easier if you are well rounded physically.  Most prodigies are physically fit enough to have reasonable activity in things like swimming, biking (even if non-competitive), kayaking, camping, and the like – even if football, it seems, is to be avoided.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Independent speech confounds partisanship

There’s a lot of talk today about Hillary Clinton’s “get out the Caucus” for Iowa (yes, it faces an East-coast-style blizzard Monday – and I talked about her email scandal already on the Issues blog).

It sounds like going to a caucus takes a lot of time for a voter, compared to just voting in a primary.  CNN explains the process, which is more complicated in the Democratic Party than Republican.

Yes, I like to pretend I can stay above the partisan crowd, say what I want in my books and blogs, accumulate knowledge for its own sake, have a certain following. Not many people pay for my content, though, and I get a certain amount of flak for that (especially from book publishers) and that could become more serious over time.

Partisanship seems bad because it degrades intellectual honesty.  It can also get in the way of getting things done and can lead to serious crises (look at the debt ceiling in 2011 and then 2013).  It can get silly.  But it does express one important value in a democracy: people have to be able to work together and compromise with one another as individuals to get anything done.

I can remember how these problems have always played out for more specific communities, which tend not to appreciate independent speakers’ bringing up distracting “externalized” issues.  You see this with the “Black Live Matter” movement now, and I’ve seen it for decades in the gay community, most of all in the 1980s when faced with the political fallout of AIDS and not completely willing to face the secondary medical implications.  Outspoken people, looking for the truth (me at the time, in Dallas) could be seen as endangering the solidarity of the whole movement.

But, as Martin Fowler wrote in his book (reviewed Aug. 27, 2014), everyone belongs to some group, no matter how introverted.

In the video above, note the distinction between “morality” and “ideology”, and the question of how you get anything done without surrendering your moral “high ground”.

Picture, no, not Iowa, but Minnesota (actually, a libertartian anti-tax rally in 2002 in St. Paul).

Update: February 1, 2016

Check out Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post, "Why many Iowans don't caucus", p. A17.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Universities fight "open education" while begging for "open access" for their libraries from research journal publishers, a paradox

Eliot Harmon writes for Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Why are universities fighting open education?” The claim of the article is ironic, considering that university libraries have been “fighting” for open access, claiming they cannot afford the huge subscriptions for research journals (which their professors may need even more than their students)  All of that tracks back to Aaron Swartz.
Harmon’s article deals with the idea that universities expect to make money on their research, and are a bit iffy on the way they will handle patents (especially software), as well as their own conventional copyright claims.   The article does mention apparent requirements by the Department of Education that universities offer Creative Commons share-alike (“CC-SA”).
Picture: A neighbor's parody of NC's "Road to Nowhere".

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Well-known conservative newspaper annoys online readers with poorly managed pop-up ads

The Washington City Paper has an interesting take on Washington’s “second newspaper”, the “conservative” Washington Times (TWT), by Matt Terl, “Unobstructed View: Please let us read you,  Washington Times.”

True, when I go to the paper, I find the pop-ups annoying, and ads that warn you about leaving their page.  The email list sends some sponsored content that sounds like it comes from the fringe.  Who wants to watch a 90-minute video that forces you to keep watching to find out the punchline about the next financial collapse?

I don’t think that this presentation strategy reinforces what is sometimes a legitimate and welcome conservative message (whatever its connection with the Unification Church).
I had three “letters to the editor” about gays in the military published in the 1990s.  The paper then published most of my LTE’s.  I only recently had an LTE published in the Washington Post about substitute teachers (Dec. 9, 2015).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fair Use should extend to digitizing content for others' secondary use; but "does it really do that?"

Electronic Frontier Foundation promotes this week as Copyright Week, with these goals”:  Maintaining a robust public domain; “You Bought It, You Own It” (the copy – First Sale doctrine); Fair Use; and Transparency.

Corynne McSherry has an article, “Fair Use Economics:How Fair Use Makes Innovation Possible and Profitable”.   She pays particular attention to concepts like Google Book Project, where digitization of books is predicated on enabling Fair Use by other people.  She also links to a case “Fox v. TVEeyes”, where Fox News sued a company “digitizing” its news reports for others to use.
It’s notable that Author’s Guild has opposed Google’s claims, on its worldview that some people need to make a living off their writing so they need to protect the use of it forever.   Author’s Guild is interesting in that, at least in the past, it has limited membership to people who really get advances for what is publishes.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Big changes to social media, as it gets more person-to-person

Here’s a big Monday morning story by Ryan Holmes, “5 Big Changes Coming to Social Media in 2016” .
A couple of items are striking.  One is the ability to stream live video through social media.  I think that can be done now on Facebook and Twitter, but I rarely do this myself;  I will sometimes tweet pictures or (less frequently) post on Instagram, but I never do this with video until I get home or back to a hotel and use a computer in a conventional way (usually that means uploading to YouTube).   I don’t have the sort of contact with people that requires that much instant transmission of information.

But the article also discusses social media platforms specifically for work, like “Facebook Work”.  That can become problematic for some people because Facebook has eliminated the “double life” on its platform (with real names).  That would not have been workable for me, for example, in the 1998-2001 period when I worked for an insurance company.

Journalists would benefit from these new platforms however, as they must often transmit large video reports quickly.  Right now, most of them use networks set up by their employers.  But, especially for smaller journalistic outlets (like American University’s “News 2 Share” ) one can see how this could be useful.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hollywood lobbyists want content screening of copyright databases to be mandatory

Eliot Harmon has an important piece at Electronic Frontier Foundation, “’Notice and stay-down’ is really “filter everything”,  It sounds like saying, don't eat spoiled food!  The idea is that if a DMCA takedown notice is unchallenged, then the same content must always be screened out in the future.  The copyright holder gets the benefit of the doubt without any due process.

Harmon notes also that the copyright “bots” aren’t really very reliable. YouTube’s “Content ID was developed as a business strategy, but copyright lobbyists want to make automated screening mandatory.

Is this one of the processes that slows down YouTube and Vimeo uploading and processing?

Would this modest proposal apply only to video, or to everything?  How could it even be workable?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Should Facebook have an "acquaintance" category?

A site called “Techotak” proposes that Facebook should have an “acquaintance” category.
The proposal also presents sociological studies which analyze how many friendships people really maintain.  But a critical element of that idea is what friends expect of one another.  For example, do they expect to be able to bail each other out of trouble, house each other in pinch (radical hospitality)?  Outside of family (possibly extended), most of us probably don’t “know” many people to whom we could extend that.

There’s also a cultural expectation of what kind of material they expect “friends” to share.  Some people question the point of sharing “scary” or quirky news items from the outside world (or “virtue signaling” [Jan. 13]);  they think everything should be “personal” and quasi-intimate.

I’m not cool with the idea of pinning category labels online to the many people in my (or “your”) life.  So I’m not crazy about opening up the idea that others should do this publicly about their connection to me.

While I’ve talked about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of replies to messages from persons not friends or followers (other than actual companies), one other issue that comes up is when a reply to a direct message or tweet or Facebook message should be expected. I don’t respond to everything, unless it replies to something specific that I have addressed already.  I don’t think it is necessary to thank every new Twitter follower, or to respond to every single invitation to look at someone else’s site.  I do look at the most relevant or interesting (from my situation) links.  I will sometimes specifically mention by books or sites in a direct reply, but only sparingly (if there is some real relevance).  And (because my blogs are not really niche-specific), I don’t run mailing lists.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bizarre First Amendment case tests whether public job holders can be left alone when silent

The Supreme Court heard a bizarre First Amendment case yesterday, regarding the demotion of a police officer in Paterson, NJ after officials mistakenly believed he was participating in political activity.

The officer, Jeffrey Heffernan, had been seen handling a political yard sign for his mother, on his own time.

Fred Barnes gives a detailed summary of the story (“At heard of free speech case, silence”) in the Wednesday Washington Post.

The SCOTUS blog offers analysis, as to whether “political agonisticism” is the same as “political neutrality” for non-political public employee positions.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bitcoin: the paradox of having no gatekeepers

These don’t sound like good days for Bitcoin.  In the New York Times, Nathaniel Popper writes a long article in Sunday Business about the tribulations of British developer Mike Hearn, “A Bitcoin Believer’s Crisis of Faith”. Hearn explains his self-ouster in a piece “The resolution of the bitcoin experiment” Jan. 14.

Then in the Washington Post Vivek Rdhwa writes “R.I.P. Bitcoin, it’s time to move on”.

It would be hard to summarize Hearn’s argument any better than he can write it.  A system that was supposed to be free of political control ironically fell under limitations imposed by short-term motivations of some of the players (apparently a lot of this in China, which is not our friend, as Donald says).  It reminds me of a parallel paradox of social media: in the beginning, the emergence of user-generated content gave speakers unprecedented opportunity to be heard for what they had to say, and now we have morphed into a society where employers monitor social media as if it could monitor people for social conformity.

There is a  lot of animosity against Hearn on YouTube.

I’ll jump to a story that sounds unrelated – the recent reports that some astronomers are beginning to believe that aliens may indeed have a civilization around a particular star 1400 light years away.  Such a civilization would probably have “people” living on several planets and moons or space stations.  A civilization able to build a Dyson Sphere would probably have a pretty stable financial system.  It might have gotten over business cycles (or maybe not).  But the bitcoin ideal does resonate:  the idea of a currency governed only by mathematics (expressed in the function of block chains), not subject to manipulation by politicians.   A Dyson-civ surely has navigated the mathematics of this idea.  If somehow we could trade information through a wormhole, we could do digital transactions and invest in their “economy”, at least as a sci-fi novel thought experiment.

Monday, January 18, 2016

If you "care" about people, you can sell to them, so the moral paradigm goes

At a party at a Washington Bar for members of Electronic Frontier Foundation Saturday night (see Internet Safety blog for more links) I did get to talk to someone who had worked in a shared hosting company similar to ones that I have used.  He noted that in 1998, when he started, he was asked in an interview if he objected to seeing porn as part of the job.  He also said that in the late 1990s, it seemed that most Internet money was being made in porn.

I don’t know that this is necessarily the case.  The dot-com bubble would burst in 2000, and even where I worked (ReliaStar, to become ING and Voya) the CEO said that a problem for the stock valuation what we didn’t have a “dot com” in our company name and trademark.

It was in 1998 that the power of search engine, to make ordinary people famous in the old Web 1.0 world was becoming evident.  That was the year that COPA would be proposed, and EFF would take up the fight (with the first temporary injunction against it in Feb. 1999).

Today, I do get pestered a lot to “sell”.  I could pick up from the latter part of my Jan. 11 posting.  It’s particularly disturbing when I get calls from my on-demand publishers about campaigns to sell copies of the older books – when Kindle is cheap, and all of it is viewable online anyway.  In most circumstances, older non-fiction “political” or eclectic books don’t continue selling lots of copies.  But they are valuable, important for reference, for context, and a record of where we’ve all been. Likewise, I get pressure for “sales” in many other areas, like online advertising or increasing user input.

In fact, as I hinted, there is a notion with some people, if you want to be heard, people should “pay” to hear your message in order to prove that it meets their needs.  The market means something.  It may not always mean paying with Paypal or credit cards.  It might mean “paying” by user involvement, like likes (“Likeononics”) or user engagement (comments) from people you don’t know at first. But there is a definite idea, that if you self-publish, you’re automatically in the retail sales business, however humbling that sounds.  If you’re already a celebrity (or an established best selling author who makes a living at it) then your publisher does it for you.  But it now, you have to earn your celebrity by proving people “want” you.

In fact, my auto-generated Facebook page, which I haven’t released yet,  my official category is “Shopping & Retail”, because Facebook has figured out that I am a self-published author.  There is a way to change it, and I honestly haven’t looked yet to see if Facebook has any concrete rules on who can call the self a “public figure” or “journalist” (or “author”).  Likewise, Webroot security use to categorize my doaskdotell site as “retail” and even “real estate”.

"Passive" marketing worked well in the old Web 1.0 environment, and can be combined with modern social media today, which seems to compete with it (and overwhelm it). But the environment may not always be as permissive as it has been -- particularly if Section 230 gets challenged, or business models change enough under investor pressure. (Along these lines, check out "Blogtyrant's" latest pep talk.  But Monday's are perfectly OK for new postings. I made an 80% on his blogging quiz -- don't do mailing lists -- so I guess that's a "B-" grade.)
For authors (or columnists) to sell, the dictum is “write what other people want.”  Now, yes, you can tal about making money with the lowest common denominator – something like (adult) porn, or the obviously cheesy supermarket stuff (well, I’ve actually enjoyed Sydney Sheldon and Dean Konntz, and Nora Roberts has her own world, and Stephen King’s novels are real literature). It might mean genre (even gay genre).  But, judging from the volume of tweets from other self-publishers, there is a mentality of how to entertain people with fantasy, or impossible situations (who to tell your fiancĂ©e that you murdered your first husband – if you want to become a black widow).  One YouTube video says, well, take a theme that you know sells and vary it – like how I got mutilated by aliens when I got abducted.  That’ll sell on Amazon Kindle.

On the culturally positive side, people want literature that helps them feel better about themselves.  Now, I’ve said that I don’t like to pimp making something OK that isn’t in my own frame of reference.  But if one does make a profoundly disabled person’s life better, then that sounds like something that would sell if it becomes a book.  So, then, you come at me, with, why won’t you do that?

This goes down a Vertigo spiral into some pretty disturbing stuff.  Yes, if you create content, you want it to help people. The people have to matter, and as my father used to say, you need to see them as people.  You need to be prepared to take responsibility for them or provide for them in some circumstances.  While you have a right to reject a particular person in a particular case, you can’t ethically carry out a pattern of rejecting everyone based on fantasy and be credible.   So, at some point, you would need to be able to help someone, and feel good enough it to (as in the gospel song “He’s alive”), “tell somebody” – that is, pimp it, proselytize, and sell.  We close the circle.

I'm reminded of an occasion when, working a short while for a company that sold subscriptions to the National Symphony (2003), a young man with a music degree was brought down from Toronto to show people how to "sell" classical music en masse -- to real people.
By the way, on my legacy “doaskdotell” site, I see how Webroot handles it now, and I also see that Yahoo! rather crowns it, at least in Firefox and Windows 7.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Kentucky would ban some "amateur" posts of accident injuries; is the Fifth Estate legally weaker than the Fourth?

Kentucky state representative John “Bam” Carney (Republican) has drafted a bill that would make it illegal for those without press credential to take photos of car wrecks, crimes and other disasters within one  hour, or at least post them online, as on Facebook. John Cheeves has the story on a local news site. Usually, after one hour, casualties have been removed.

The bill seems aimed at preventing the dissemination of photos of gross bodily injuries or deaths.  It is true that established news media would normally avoid making such photos. But the bill could raise troubling questions about the law and “amateurism”, or whether non-credentialed speakers have a legally smaller voice than established, commercially successful journalistic operators:  does the “fifth estate” have a legally smaller voice than the “fourth estate”.  (The estates sound like Clive Barker's dominions in the "Imajica".)

So the legislation, while not likely to affect many speakers directly, could set troubling precedents for how policies involving amateur speech are crafted. Many observers believe it would not survive First Amendment challenges.

But there has already been a lot of controversy over amateur photographing of police, which may be valuable as a check against police racial profiling.

I have passed a few serious accidents in my life, and took photos of my own June 15, 2015 (but not of people, only vehicles).  In 1984, I did pass an accident in Ennis, TX where a body-bag was removed from the road.  And I recall one occasion in a Dallas steak house on Cedar Springs around 1980 where another young man told me how he had driven the wrong way and caused a catastrophic accident, from which he was still recovering.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Empathy gets personal and then over the top

An elementary school teacher in Blaine, MN (north of Minneapolis) decided to teach a lesson in empathy, when she encouraged her first grade class to make and send one-word empathy cards for Minnesota Vikings place kicker Blair Walsh, after Walsh missed a field goal that could have won a home playoff game against the Seattle Sea Hawks.

Walsh made a visit to the class, as reported by CBS News here. All this was real world stuff, for kids too young for social media. (Real world encounters "count" a lot more anyway, at least in my book.)
Is this over the top?  I can think of other examples, like blown saves (for relief pitchers) in baseball.  I can recall more than one USCF tournament chess game where I’ve blundered away a won game (one in particular comes to mind, way back in 1970, where I had won a rook and a piece with black [playing a Nadjorf Sicilian] in the opening and blew the game).   I hardly think I would need “empathy”.  Only your own mistakes can beat you.

Except that the latter claim, while often true in sports or competition, isn’t always true in life in general.  We’re a lot more interdependent than a lot of us want to admit.  Team sports are supposed to teach that value.

All of this gets reported in a backdrop where some people are questioning the “morality” of competitive football,  as demonstrated by the recent film “Concussion” (Movies, Dec. 25, 2015).  Malcolm Gladwell has raised the issue especially with college football  (Issues blog, July 21, 2013).  That doesn’t discourage Canadian-born actor Richard Harmon from his enthusiastic support of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team on his Twitter page.
I can remember, at around age 8, when my parents tried to get me to play.  In the cultural that reared me, football was part of the risk-taking of young men, who could be expected to join together sometimes to protect women and children.  But that supports “war” culture, doesn’t it.
The media have supported the Minnesota teacher.  I would have personally found it hard to make things that personal, as I found out when working as a substitute teacher a few years back.  To me, you lose a game, you move on.  Remember the term “be a good sport”.
Picture: Northern MN, June 2011, my most recent trip (where I lived 1997-2003).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Campuses collar anonymous speech, fail to use due process with complaints

Electronic Frontier Foundation has written to the Department of Education about the importance of universities’ allowing anonymous speech on campus forums and sites, as in this editorial Jan. 13.

And, as expected, EFF reiterates its call that tech companies not be recruited as civilian posse’s to identify potential terrorists or recruiters online.

Today, George Will, in an editorial about Marco Rubio, manages to talk about campus speech codes indirectly, in criticizing university shredding of due process in handling complaints against male students supposed aggression on dates (toward females – although the new ABC series “American Crime” may pose the question in gay situations).   Likewise, campuses are quick to jump on speech as “micro-aggression”, conveying the idea that people have a fundamental right never to be offended.

I guess my own incident with William and Mary in 1961 could provide material for a study in campus “due process”.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

It's not cool to look virtuous online without skin in the game

Mark Judge, on a site called “Acculturated”, asks “Are you guilty of ‘virtue-signaling’”?  The concept means appearing to be virtuous by sharing some common contempt for a negative social happening (for example, police racial profiling) without being willing to put your own skin in the game.

Yesterday, CNN’s Tom Foreman shared, on his Facebook page, a link to a Medium article by Sean Blanda, “The Other Side is Not Dumb”.  He says that making caricatures of “The Other Side” in a polarizing social issue doesn’t show we’re better informed; it says we would like to remain smug a-holes ourselves.

Participating in group-think may help people feel that they belong, and belonging – having real people need you -- is important in its own sake.  But sometimes we really do need a nuanced debate.  Sometimes we can’t afford to be wrong.

I can think of some major issues where this is true.  Back in the early to mid 1980s the gay community had to respond not only to the medical but the social and political threat of AIDS, which unleashed some very dangerous legislative proposals in Texas.  Later on, gay leadership went around saying “don’t take the test”.  To follow “your side’s” orders was a way to invite catastrophe.
We have issues like that today, such as the safety of the power grids (which I had mentioned to Mr. Foreman Saturday when buying his book at an NBC4 health fair).  The public has a perception that this is an issue belonging to the right-wing and the doomsday preppers.  It needs a thorough, nuanced presentation from major media outlets.

Update: January 19

A distantly (or distally) related problem is documented by Fareed Zakaria's harrowing op-ed, "Bit, venom and lies: How I was trolled on the Internet", in the Washington Post Jan. 15.  Ratifying prejudice makes some people feel "virtuous" (or, as one prosecutor told me, "superior").  Zakaria points out that Facebook doesn't have as big a problem with this as Twitter, or with comment forums that allow anonymous posts.  But Electronic Frontier Foundation continues to champion anonymous speech, or at least the right to engage in it..

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Aaron Swartz: two new books, and differing views on his life's work on Open Access

A couple of books are leading us to recall Aaron Swartz, “The Internet’s Own Boy”. (Movies, July 21, 2015).  One is “The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet” (Scribner), with a New York Times book review by Justin Peters. A Facebook friend points out, in summary, that Swartz became a millionaire by selling Reddit to a publishing company, and then he became an “idealist” by storing other people’s IP.  Should people be able to make money on their own IP?  Of course, they can.

Then today Electronic Frontier Foundation, Elliot Harmon (probably no relation to actor Richard, but who knows?) writes about “The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz”, a collection from The New Press.

But the biggest practical problem is indeed the expense of accessing studies in academic, scientific and particularly medical journals.  Jack Andraka has often spoken about “Open Access” in his Ted talks and various events at Stanford (where he attends college now).  (Jack has been criticized for not publishing all of his own work yet while making these arguments, but getting stuff published in journals before age 19 isn’t that simple.)  Other prodigies like Taylor Wilson or Param Jaggi could encounter the same issues in their work, although they may have funding to cover it.  Even more seriously, institutions like Harvard are saying that journals are so expensive that they can no longer adequately service their own students and professors.

Should scientific journals belong in the public domain?  How do you pay for research  (including a time-consuming peer review process) presented in them?

The “privatization of knowledge” sounds like a good catch phrase.   My own father would claim about my own insubordination and hypochondria, “You read ….”   It’s common for authoritarian political and social (and religious) structures (Russia’s Vladimir Putin,  and China, for openers) to promote the idea that the passage of knowledge comes with earned social or familial status.  Past generations, until modern technology, didn’t have much choice about this but to believe their elders.  We can do better.

Christopher Greene of AMTV has an interesting take on Swartz.  He also says that Reddit censors his channel. Greene thinks Swartz could have defended himself in court.

Monday, January 11, 2016

"What other people want", in three phases

Soon, I plan to post a paper (maybe on Wordpress) about a particular view of things that concerns me:  what are the moral expectations of someone “different” like me?  That question presumes living in a relatively free “liberal” western society where there is a legitimate hope that, in the long run, free markets reward “moral” behavior.  The answer to the question would ultimately lead to assertions about what not only I should do, but also “must”.

Morality means more than just the surface libertarian idea of “harmlessness” and “keeping promises”.  Common good, in various layers, does matter.  It is personal, and not just about policy. When I ponder this, I come up with a number of interrelated areas, like interdependence, “patriotism”, addressing inequality, resilience, supporting sustainability, and reverence for human or comparable life.  There is a tendency to run into contradictions (not suitable for “Atlas Shrugged”).  People tend to turn to scripture and authority of others (or to faith) to resolve these tensions.  I want to use reason.  One of the biggest ethical weaknesses of hyper-individualism (whether from objectivism or libertarianism) is that no one accomplishes anything completely on his own without hidden sacrifices from others that he or she never sees (it's rather like relativity and entropy in physics).

One way to look at this is to categorize the various pressures brought to bear on me at different periods of my life (since I am 72 now).  I’m particularly concerned about things that I did not necessarily “choose”, but came at me with the idea that if I didn’t do them, someone else would have to bear the risk of sacrifice instead of me.

Since I grew up in the 1950s and into young adulthood in the 60s, I was faced with demands for gender role conformity (the "first phase").  But the expectations were geared toward meeting the needs of immediate family and surrounding community (or “fellowship”, as it is often called in Christian churches).  This was partly geared to the idea of living in close proximity to others when necessary, but also to the idea that men should defend women and children.  That meant that men need to develop “manly” skills.  I grew up at a time when there was a male-only military draft, which had seemed necessary during WWII (with great sacrifices) but which was coming into question during the Vietnam war, over the deferment question and even whether the war had been “necessary”.  Men made sacrifices before even having a chance to have their own families, so there is some contradiction to “family values” and “respect for life”. One of the ideas, though, was “unit cohesion” and obedience to the aims to the group when men are together (with less female presence).  Another was the idea that the extreme cleanliness of military regimentation supports the ability of people to live together in forced intimacy when external conditions force them to.

The development of gender-appropriate skills was supposed to facilitate courtship of the opposite sex, and the idea of limiting sexuality to marriage and taking up the responsibility of rearing another generation and carrying on the family, even when that meant some sacrifice of “self”. Indeed, had I been “better” at these things, I probably would have become more interested in conventional “dating” and eventually becoming a father in a family my own.  But that observation does not seem to carry through consistently with gay men in general, despite the older stereotypes that I often encountered.

Once homosexuality became an issue (with my expulsion from William and Mary in the fall of 1961), the hostile reaction to it took over as a "phase 1-1/2".

The record of my “treatment” at NIH in the later part of 1962 (overlapping the Cuban Missile Crisis) is interesting and disturbing.  Therapists were concerned about my apparent “schizoid” nature and indifference to “normal” desire for intimacy with (probably dependent) females (leading to intercourse and having children, to be raised in new families).  They were also concerned about the “meaning” that could be attributed to my “upward affiliation” with certain other males, and its equation with my own idea of virtue.  If this pattern of thinking were allowed to be OK, it could become socially and politically disruptive, even dangerous.  What had we fought WWII over 17 years before?  Of course, at 19 I really didn’t quite get all of this.

I don't know what "caused" me to fall behind physically.  Was it autism setting up a vicious cycle?  Was it a semi-intentional, and according to the circumstances of the times, morally suspect attempt to save room and space for my own self-expressive purposes, a kind of malingering or physical laziness?  This reminds me of  Gunter Grass and "The Tin Drum".  If so, it isn't necessarily predictable or typical. Other men have pursued art without compromising competence in more mundane everyday hings of real life. It is relevant that at age 24, in "Special Training" at Army Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, SC (spring 1968) I did approach more closely the physical strength and competence expected in those days of males of my age.

The concern with gender conformity and “social graces” would concern when I was finally “drafted” and went through Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson in 1968.

A second main phase of “what other people want” developed in the mid 1970s when I was living in New York City and finally able to live a somewhat semi-open (in the chess opening sense) gay life. I had used “The Ninth Street Center” as a place to try to “meet people”.  I found that my attitude to “cherry pick” got rebuffed by some people, who wanted me to be more part of the “group” even if it meant a certain “subservience” (particularly in performing practical domestic skills in conjunction with the “real needs” of others) and “femininization”.   My tendency to bring up external political issues, as if they could become threats to everyone, disturbed some people, who saw this as a ruse hiding unwillingness to become intimate with less “attractive” or charismatic people and have “real life” relationships, whatever was going on “on the outside” (although the same idea had even played out at NIH).  Later, when I moved to Dallas before the 80s (probably delaying any potential for getting HIV) I found a parallel attitude at MCC Dallas, where people used religious authority in a way to draw me into “faith” and accept a certain submissiveness to the good of the group.  The same attitude is probably found in many rural “intentional communities” (with income-sharing) today. (Look at the discussion of the Virginia community “Twin Oaks” on the Issues blog, April 7, 2012.)

The third phase came after I became a “self-published” author and (particularly a decade or more ago) leveraged the effectiveness of search engines on the Internet.  It was “don’t ask don’t tell” that got me into the game of writing.  But I found that it never made sense to remain loyal to one group’s interest, at the expense of awareness of what was going on in the “global world”, which can present “threats” at any time.  So started creating large volumes of content online about many concentric subjects, which I see as interconnected, like paths on a board game.

The reaction of others somewhat surprised me.  “They” would challenge me to take on social responsibilities (partisan to their needs) in situations where before I might have been unwelcome.  It seemed as though others believe one should not be heard (at least in gratuitous fashion) unless one has taken responsibility for others.  That might normally have been marrying and having kids, or it might be something today more radical like adopting children (as a single person) or sheltering refugees.  (This crosses into areas like inherited or unearned wealth, even “spare bedrooms”.)

“They” would challenge me to see if I was willing to compete in a normal social hierarchy where I needed to show assertiveness and ability to manipulate others (to “sell” others things, or to “sell” “their agendas” rather than mine).  They wanted me off my high horse of pretense of objectivity.

There was another disturbing question.  Did I "care" enough about my "readers" that I got satisfaction from meeting more basic needs (even if this meant "partisanship")?  Does it have to get "personal" at some point?

This expectation of socialization from me even came into play with my unexpectedly long period of eldercare with my mother, who passed at the end of 2010. A side effect was the use of underpaid labor of full time caregivers.

Sometimes others seem to challenge me to see if I thought enough of “them” to want a more normal life of “relationships”.  But I’ve actually played that game from the other side at least once recently, however unintentionally.

As far as the use of social media for “self-broadcast” goes, I’ll offer a link in “entrepreneur”, “Will ‘Being Wasted’ on Facebook hurt your small business loan chances?”  Yup, people who take on real responsibility for real families have to limit the scope of their public speech.  One can also check Peter Rudegeair on the Wall Street Journal, "Silicon Valley: We don't trust FICO scores".

If you value individual freedom from the designs of other men (and authoritarian politicians), and also accept the idea that interdependence with and on others in unavoidable in civilized living, logic (almost as in proving a mathematical theorem) implies you have to be open to some personal or intimate relationships that you could not have chosen just from your own head. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Gratuitous "social graces" and "salesmanship", anyone?

Recently I got a bombastic mailing from the Mayo Clinic for what looks like a simple periodical subscription about personal health.  I know that the nearby Virginia Hospital Center became affiliated with the Mayo Clinic.  And I remember the town of Rochester, MN well from the years that I lived in Minneapolis (1997-2003).  I recall that when Washington Nationals baseball player Jayson Werth broke his wrist on a Sunday night game in 2012, he immediately flew to the clinic in Minnesota for “state of the art” restorative surgery (and then maybe shopping at the Mall of America).

I don’t answer “robocalls”, and I don’t respond to being directly contacted to sell me much of anything. (“Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”)  Part of it is just about time management: there are far too many calls, spam emails, and conventional postal mailings (still) to respond to. It’s like a hiring manager giving each resume a maximum of five seconds attention.  The shoe is on the other foot.

But part of it has to do with my personal resentment of personal manipulation for its own sake.  My own adult lifestyle has always been very “independent”.  That’s partly concomitant with the kind of work I did – individual contributor in information technology shops.  I didn’t have to go outside and “sell” things, and learn how to manipulate people for an employer’s gain (“overcome objections” and all that “always be closing” stuff).  In retirement, I’ve learned that isn’t the real world for most people.  We’re supposed to be social creatures and need others to sell things to us.  It used to be that a reasonable number of telephone calls for sales and even door-to-door knocks was normal, acceptable, and even expected.  No more.  But some companies do not seem to have caught on with the new reality.

Then, there’s the whole subject matter of what the US Army called “social graces” when I was in Basic Combat Training (back in 1968).  Recently, at a social dinner gathering, the organizer, when introducing me to others, would say “Bill has a blog.”  Well, I have nineteen of them, and setting a blog up means next to nothing by itself.  Or “Bill is a distinguished author”.  (Maybe it was “esteemed author”).  No, I’ve gotten little public recognition from the mainstream, and as of yet I still don't have a Wikipedia page because I don't meet the "notability" rules (so far, subject to change without notice).  It would be much more appropriate to use active verbs and be specific.  “Bill has authored a few books, and deals with gays in the military”.  Well, they deal with more than that, but that’s a much more constructive, helpful and appropriate statement in a social gathering to convey really what I have done with the second half of my life. The barren statements run the risk of conveying a fake "superiority complex" on my part.

The "Personal Journal" of the WSJ offers this piece by Elizabeth Bernstein, "Friendship advice: when your best friend brings a crowd: 'Focusers' prefer time alone; 'Diffusers' like to socialize in groups".  But a "focusers" is more like to have at least one blog.
Second picture: This was the public library (where "it's free") in Washington DC where I went to research term papers in high school. 

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Obama administration, Silicon Valley meet do discuss countering enemy "propaganda" recruiting youth

The Washington Post, in a story Saturday morning by Greg Miller and Karen De Young, l reports “New tack against ISIS propaganda; US to revamp faltering online war; Task force to coordinate efforts to counter recruiting”, front page.

A meeting was held by Skype in Washington and at a location in a hotel in Silicon Valley.  US Tech companies are reluctant to become police in this problem (related to Section 230, at least indirectly), other than by stating terms of service (like the “Twitter Rules”) which now explicitly ban recruiting for terrorism.  But companies are generally dependent on users to report it, beyond some very crude online screening.   It would seem plausible that messages from some countries could be looked at more closely (something both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seem to be proposing now, although earlier some ideas had been proposed to shut down many social media functions completely, see Dec. 8).
State Department efforts to distribute “counter propaganda” seem to be ineffective.  Young men and women who are susceptible to such ideology are confused by growing up in a collective social culture (often religious) but surrounded by a hyper-individualistic outer culture that lets people “get out of things”.  Susceptibility to propaganda is a hallmark of heavy socialization. It's one of Validmir Putin's favorite concepts.
The meeting apparently did not address the other big question of providing a “back door” to encryption that allows criminal and terror-associated communication to go dark.

Friday, January 08, 2016

More progress on "milestones"

OK, here’s a little more news about what’s happening in my own world, up close and not so personal.
I have mentioned that I may restructure my sites and blogs, and reduce their number and eventually eliminate some redundant content.

Yesterday, after looking at some articles on “security” (in a broadest sense) I did follow a recommended “best practice” and equated my three most important blogs on Blogger to Google domains.

I also compared the ease (and predicted cost) of using Google Domains with using Godaddy, here.

That would include this one, which now is called "".  The reason for the “me” (Montenegro) as a TLD is explained on my Trademark blog (last night) – to avoid stepping on distant relatives.  It’s slightly more expensive.

To use Google domains, you just go to “” and are invited to search for a domain name.  You may not get back the names you are looking for, as it seems to avoid names that other registrars may have parked as well as used.  I had much better luck going into the Blogger Control Panel, go to Settings, then navigate to Google Domains from there, where I found the names I needed that were logical for the blog.  I bought the domain on a card (usually $12 a year, including private registration), which took less than a minute.  I then let Blogger connect to the new domain. It takes about 15 minutes for the redirect to work (during which time the browser will get a DNS error).

Note: it seems that Google Domains does not let you just make up a spelling you want; that's probably a security measure to stop the creation of spam domains with names resembling well known trademarks except for one character's misspelling.

What happens is that, on the Blogger control panel, the names of the blogs and the way everything works remains the same.  But if you key in the “” URL into a browser (or click on  link to it) you get redirected to the new domain (which applies also to specific post URL’s, or to archive links).

The “me” domain does not work as a “naked” domain (without the “www”)  But (the other two domains that I "redirected") “Bills Movie News and Reviews” works and “Bills Book Reviews and News” works (without “www”).  There is no particular reason which “news” and “reviews” got switched – probably my dyslexic oversight ten years ago – so learning these blog names becomes like learning a foreign language – and how to conjugate irregular verbs. (The “Drama” and “TV” blogs put the “news” first.)
For the three domains, I had to add the Google Privacy Policy statement on cookies for EU visitors to the privacy policy on the template, because browsers no longer show it automatically.

In another few weeks, I’ll say more about further plans along these lines.
On Dec. 30, I discussed my progress on the screenplay.  I have since then turned attention to finishing this 1962 Piano Sonata on Sibelius.  (Yes, folks – the twitter @reply heard virally around the world – it’s my own “one long process piece that gets progressively less bad”).  By early next week, I expect to have the Coda done, and then it’s on to video (and to the piano miniatures).

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Two Major League Baseball players sue Al Jazeera for defamation; a lesson in the law? (and for sports?)

There’s a good example of defamation law playing out now.  Two MLB baseball players, Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, and Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, have sued news organization Al Jazeera for defamation on apparently reporting on some supposed violation of MLB’s policies of use of performance-enhancing drugs. ESPN’s story and video follows here.  USA Today has a similar story here.

The content had been included in an Al Jazeera documentary “The Dark Side: The Secret World of Sports Doping”. The news organization seems to tell its own side of the story in its own account here

 Right now, I could not yet find an entry for the documentary in imdb.

To prevail, since the players are “public figures”, they would have to show that the defendants (which can included both whole companies and individual employees or contractors working for them) had acted maliciously, or with reckless disregard for the truth.

Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez had occurred on the list of a clinic that had dispensed improper substances to some players, but MLB cleared him of any wrongdoing (ESPN story). 

All of this is a serious distraction to both teams involved.  The Washington Nationals hired a new manager (Dusty Baker) who then started some controversy with online comments on unrelated matters.  The team needs to be healthy and focused as Spring Training starts in six weeks.  A story like this concerning one of its key players (often sidelined by injury) does not help.  Of course, many medications used in conjunction with injuries would be legitimate.

It also shows the risks fimmakers can run with "expose" documentary.