Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Libertarian philosophy and me

Although most of the posts on this blog lean toward the legal-technical, I’m digressing a bit into the philosophy underneath all these concerns.

The past few decades have given rise to a philosophy and cultural value that we could call personal autonomy (or individual sovereignty), along with the doctrine that society should not interfere with the right of the individual to make private choices in how to engage other consenting adults. This philosophy is particularly commensurate with gay rights when viewed from the point of view of individual adult relationships, pursued privately without expectation of support from others. Along these lines, an organization GLIL (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty) developed in the 1990s and disseminated a newsletter, The Quill, which I edited for two years.

This philosophy came to be challenged for a couple of reasons. One is that, with the rise of the Internet and other low cost global media, sexuality has been perceived as having an expressive aspect as well as simply a way to relate to others. Traditional marriage supports the idea that public approbation, without too much visible challenge, is necessary to enable families to stay together (in the "family bed"), raise their kids, and support the elderly. Individualists claim that those who are different are penalized to make them support the collective values of the majority, to make individual members of the majority more comfortable. Hyperindividualism comes to be perceived as too troubling to those who are individually disadvantaged. Furthermore, individualism can be undermined by exogenous threats (whether natural or from enemies) that would require people to maintain familial solidarity in order to survive. All of these collective arguments were often posed in terms of religious faith, which accepts external authority rather than scientific methods as a source of truth and knowledge.

At this point, we have to return back to a split in our thinking. Libertarianism bases its moral thinking on non-aggression. It is wrong, therefore, to force one person to make sacrifices to meet another’s needs. Logically, that means that the government should not redistribute wealth, or force one person to sacrifice for the interests of another as, for example, with conscription, or with laws that invade privacy (like sodomy laws or drug use laws). The underlying principle seems to be that an individual should be accountable for himself, no matter what. Marriage law, to the extent that it gets the state involved in what seem to be religiously driven principles for a wholesome collective experience (the nuclear family) breaches this idea.

It’s often difficult to tell how far to go with limiting the reach of the law. You need the law to have the stability necessary for expressive freedom. An obvious area is security (and here I won’t go into the pandora’s box of legislation, the Patriot Act and so on, that can randomly ensnare innocent citizens, other than to say that some threats cannot be parried perfectly). A more ambiguous area is tort reform. While libertarianism is based on freedom to contract, the threat of frivolous litigation can have a serious chilling effect on expressive freedom.

But another more subtle area is to realize that limiting the reach of statutory law does not in itself mean abandoning all more collective ideas of morality. It is well to characterize the proper moral foundation of the law as the "Harm Principle" (as described by law professor Elizabeth Foley in her new book "Liberty for All") and recognize that society will typically expect people to share certain obligations (especially family responsibility) in a pro-active way outside of the law, and that these obligations can have a tremendous practical effect on freedom and on life choices available. In a general way, the opposition to “equal rights for gays” has a lot to do with a perception that gays (men particularly) have abandoned "family responsibility." Now this gets mixed up with ideas about blood loyalty (and openness to procreation, or to new life for its own sake) that people have trouble talking about today. The "moralists" maintain a system of thought that is both circular and existential (the term "aesthetic realism" has been used). From a moral point of view, even as a libertarian would think, any successful person today benefited from adults who reached out to him or her before the age of reason or cognizance, so returning that outreach to other generations (both the children of the next generation and the disabled and sometimes the elderly today) sounds like paying back a moral debt that one owes.

I have become vocal in public with my books, sites and blogs, and some people express discomfort that I draw attention to myself when I don’t accept (emotional) accountability to anyone else. Maybe that accountability is becoming an underground moral expectation. Without getting too far into sensitive matters, it is easy to imagine that some entities would not feel that I was a trustworthy person to do business with without that personal or emotional accountability and return, without “paying my dues.” That would still fall under the rubric of the way libertarianism works.

It is important, however, to look at what people expect from the normal modes of socialization, the family and the hierarchal workplace and political structure. It’s obvious that it opens the system up for corruption and cronyism. Maybe a singleton like me is less vulnerable to some kind of blackmail or to making enemies than those whose emotions are overly tied to domain over others (look at the plot of the soap “Days of our Lives.”)

For me, psychological survival depends upon setting up my own course and goals, independent of the special needs of others around me. I think that the knowledge management that I have discussed in these pages is essential in order to have an objective grip on the issues. That has become a “retirement goal”, yet some people challenge me with that good this is if it does not benefit some specific person in need. Yes, sometimes I don’t like to be disturbed some times or forced into giving others attention or acting as a male protector or role model (that was a problem when I was substitute teaching), because in a certain way that would undermine the experiences with others that I want when I am in a position to find them. After all, I do not have a biological or equivalent lineage of my own to call a personal domain, people to whom I would normally behave partially toward--especially to "protect" it from the natural emotional and social prejudices of others. There is the disturbing idea that I must represent the interests of someone else with some kind of loyalty before I may represent “the truth.” I would rather stick to the truth, and keep it absolute.

I know, however, that many people see the church and nuclear family as the domain in which to reconcile the political with the personal; they see religious and filial responsibility as a moral justification for individuality, without which we would be living in collective political systems where both personal virtue and interpersonal loyalty responsibility are defined by the state. We’ve seen that before, all the way from Maoism to fascism (including radical Islam). That “deal” does not work for me personally. For one thing, then knowledge itself is defined by the state or by religious authority, pretending to be "the people" or "the Folk." True individualism is going to be a hard sell in today’s troubled world.

more DMCA (content and searches); ad integrity

A couple of serious topics:

We’ve all seen a lot of debate about the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and takedown notices under safe harbor. Here are a couple of good references:
EFF:

Chilling Effects FAQ’s:

Earlier entry mentioning paper by Tim Lee:

Ivan Hoffman has a good writeup

Generally, take down notices require a formal letter stating to an ISP or search engine “designated agent”, signed properly (probably notarized), alleging infringement in good faith, and acknowledging civil or even criminal possible penalties for bad faith (or perjury).

Search engines will take down specific search results based on specific arguments pointing to certain sites under safe harbor. Take down procedures allow the site owner to contest and show that the site does not infringe. In many cases, takedown notices and cease-and-desist letters result in public posting at ChillingEffects.

There is strong opposition in the Internet publishing community to the way DMCA takedown is handled in the law.

Although I cannot verify this directly (with search engine “help” documentation), there is strong anecdotal evidence that sometimes individual parties have search engine search results removed from certain sites. This seems to be related to recent media-reported concerns that employers (and agents) check not only social networking sites but also blog and web references to candidates as part of a informal “background check”, a practice that we find troubling.

Another recent topic of great concern is the integrity of website ads, where publishers are paid based partially on ad clicks. This is obviously a sensitive topic. I have more details on this at this free link:


A couple of varied media accounts:
The Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2006, p A1, carries a story
by Sara Kehaulani Goo, Muneesa Nqui (New Dehli, India) and Richard Drezan.

But a much older paper, from early 2005, is by Duncan Parry.

Maintaining the integrity of the paid ad system, with any form of publisher compensation, is a very important personal priority for me.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Paraphrasing -- do it in good faith


I've noticed that a lot of short news stories on television station sites and other news sites have wording like "this material must not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed." This might seem to preclude even paraphrasing.

When someone includes material from another source in a literary effort, term paper -- or even a blog entry -- one should always try to add more content to what is being reported from the first source. The best situation occurs if one can cite several other sources that deal with the same story and compare them. If not, one would want to add content to the story by placing in a context in relation to other stories related to some particular newsworthy issue. In blogs, personal observations may well be able to add additional and original meaning to the original story.

There are some sources that discusses the possibility of infringement or plagiarism even when paraphrasing, if it is done haphazardly. Here are a few:

Ozlem Uzener and Boris Katz, "Non-Verbatim Copyright Infringement Detection for Text," at MIT, link here (PDF file).

Southwestern College, Winfield Kansas, class notes, "What is plagiarism, anyway?"
: Here.

University of Alabama Turnitin discusses careless paraphrasing as "unintentional plagiarism" here

A Chilling Effects log of a cease-and-desist complaint by Book-Editing.com, which shows what it considers bad faith paraphrase that does not add any original content. Link here. This is a DMCA "safe harbor" take down notice.

Readers will want to read Tim Lee's paper on the DMCA, referenced a few entries down on this blog.

Friday, October 13, 2006

About RSS news feeds

In addition to reviewing the “Business 2.0” discussion of blogging,
(that was written up here)

readers may want to check a similar discussion in Tech Republic. The best source seems to be here:
http://downloads.techrepublic.com.com/abstract.aspx?docid=260220
(You may need a subscription.)

Tech Republic advocates self-syndication with a “Really Simple Syndication” feed file.. The webmaster builds a special RDF file (of xml statements) that points to the content, description, and images in your “RSS feed.” Regular visitors can download a variety of ATOM and RSS compatiable newsfeeds, that have to be compatible with the user’s operating system (Mac OS, Linux, or Windows 98 to XP/Vista).

Rogerebert.com (and the Chicago Sun Times) has a particularly effective discussion of website syndication for Ebert’s movie reviews,
at this link:


The most comprehensive discussion of news feed coding is here:


Large commercial news websites typically are configured to allow repeat visitors to configure their space (like My Yahoo!) to receive news feeds from other sites of their choosing (like from Tech Republic). I will look into the feasibility of having my sites offer this. However, An ISP has to configure its hosting service properly for this, allow RDF's files and various feeds. This isn't always possible with shared hosting services.

With my earlier sites, I offered feeds from 7AM news and vibrant media. The companies that offered these feeds stopped offering them free in 2004 and 2005, apparently. But I will look into the possibility of syndicating some of my content as it becomes technically more specific in certain areas. I do offer a lot of direct links to some specific blog files from my other sites.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Knowledge management, faith, and a profile


Of course, there is a certain arrogance in the “knowledge mastery” that I have proposed in the previous posting. We can save ourselves with Wissenschaft, like in the Strauss tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, the opening measures of which heralded the sunrise in space in the famous 1968 Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. We have the freedom to explore the world and try things out and take the risks; we can get hurt.

Andrew Sullivan has an essay in the Oct. 9, 2006 issue of Time, “When Not Seeing Is Believing.” He discusses the essential intellectual paradoxes about doubt and belief that must precede faith. A graduating Fairfax County, VA high school senior wrote in a 2005 high school newspaper, “How do you turn from the cold empiricism of science to take the step to unify Man and hope? Sometimes you need to abandon skepticism and cynicism, and live with a little faith.”

The trouble is, of course, is that many branches of many religions preach faith as a belief system to be handed down from on high and from some scripture (as a “manifesto”) and believed without critical thinking. This is utopian thinking, that God will provide everything, whatever your own best efforts are as an individual. You should not have to save yourself. It is intended to sound reassuring.

What follows from scripture, they say, are the norms of social and sexual morality. All of the ideas about abstinence until marriage go beyond individual accountability as the commercial and legal world understands it. It is a deep social pact that is supposed to take care of anyone within any one tribe. Everyone owes some obligation to one’s own blood, to help provide and raise the next generation, and care for the preceding one. Social justice beyond the family and community is ordinarily beyond any one individual’s purview. Even the Gospels seem to say that. The central problem, then, with the presence of gay people is its very diversity: it is the “narcissistic” distraction and competition that it provides, that would lure a lot of marginal people away from the protective socialization of family life. In family matters, understanding and “knowledge management” is not always a welcome thing. Political fights over gay issues turn into polarizing battles using such concepts as bigotry and minority groups. But they miss the central point about individual liberty.

What you have to accept with any progressive system of values is increased personal responsibility, a lifting of some social protections in exchange for greater freedom, which, we hope, pays off more dividends for all in the long run. The devil is in the detail, and they can be enormously intricate, like a Chinese puzzle in one of Clive Barker’s novels—-hence “knowledge management.” Many people, however, have become socialized to such an extent that they depend upon an unquestioned system to social and filial obligations (including emotional connections) to sustain them, leading in extreme cases to the “soap opera syndrome” of behaviors.

Along these lines, you see even more paradoxes. The new Pope criticizes Islam for its intellectual failings, and yet insists that only the Church can dispense “absolute truth.” For all the beautiful closes circularity of Vatican teachings, it somehow helped generate the energy to break up communism in the 1980s. For all the focus in Christian teachings on humility, charity and social solidarity – almost psychological communism – modern Christianity wound up supporting all of our modern technological advances as basically good.

One problem, as we find with the Internet – advances that came about largely as an expansion of mathematical thinking itself – “hyper objectivism” – is the new dangers that individuals encounter (for themselves and for others around them, especially minors) as they find “free entry” into promoting themselves and exploring the world on their own in the parallel bur surrogate cyber universe. In a general way, we could enunciate a secular moral principle, but one closely following most religious teachings, that one ought to have to be accountable to others and providing for others before one is allowed to go too far in promoting oneself. If someone has a loved one to protect, presumably he or she will encounter some natural constraints when entering into controversy. An extreme example of the moral issues that one encounters in disseminating information that one owns to the world was demonstrated in the film Copenhagen (play by Michael Frayn) about the mysterious meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg during World War II.

The moral principle could come up in the future in debates about issues barely recognized yet – like filial responsibility laws. They have a bearing on education. They go beyond the concerns about financial responsibility. They could suppose that, given the deference given by one’s parents and others to bring anyone into the world and rear that person, leads to a moral obligation to pass that deference on to provide for someone else. This does not simply come about by having children, it exists automatically anyway. For LGBT people your into the “moral circularities”: society drives them away from social responsibility (like marriage and child rearing) and forces them to focus on themselves. But at least this gives one a framework for analyzing all of today’s major social issues.

My own history, of thirty plus years of “exile” of urban “countercultural” living makes it hard for me to take these responsibilities. Of particular concern to some people is my penchant for drawing attention to myself (refusing to keep a “low profile”) without having more accountability to others. Especially disturbing to some is my public characterization of myself as a “non competitive male” who does not “protect” others in a conventional tribal way; this is seen as daring others to cause trouble, even when intended as a political statement about gender diversity and psychological polarities.

That, at least, is how it is.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My online encyclopedia and blogs: knowledge management


Most of the material on this blog is intended to be newsy, but here I’m going to generate the news with some general discussion of how I manage my own presence on the web. (This reminds me of an assignment in freshman college English: to write an "annotated bibliography" of the term paper to be written later in the semester.) That’s become controversial because I expect to enter the job market again and employers now regularly look at applicants’ online presence as if it were “clothing”, so I want people to understand what I am doing.

The main body of information is on one site (doaskdotell.com), which is a repository for discussions and footnotes about a huge web of issues affecting individual liberty. In a loose sense, the site is organized around the three published books, with the chapters leading to “footnote files” that in turn lead to various sidebars and editorials. There is also a library of movie, book, and drama reviews, which are slanted towards their relevance to issues concerning personal liberty and artistic expression.

The nucleus of the material is personal—that there is a psychological nexus between an incident that happened to me in 1961, and today’s debates over sexual orientation and the ability to share responsibility, and to some extent balance being one’s “brother’s keeper” with personal choice. The personal stuff gives me the credibility to enter the debates. What I have come up with over nine years is almost like an encyclopedia of issues, organized as a network around a certain logic of thought, rather than alphabetically (as Wikipedia or any encyclopedia).

Although I update the site in place, what I find effective is to use the blogs to provide “breaking news,” stories about specific technical or legal developments that have hidden implications for personal liberty. I can link to the individual blog elements from “the encyclopedia.” That is necessary because the blog entries drop out of sight with time, although they remain available in archives. As a practical matter, visitors will find them only if I provide the direct links (or they will find them in search engines).

I do have blogs for movies, books and plays, but what I put on the blogs now (at least going forward) are newsy stories about these art-forms. Sometimes whole reviews will go onto the blogs only if the movie content itself is newsworthy enough; direct links will still be provided from the link indices on the “encyclopedia.” If you look at a lot of the entries for any blog, going back into the monthly archives, you can see what I am getting at. Blogs, compared to static content, offer the possibility of comments and message-board-like discussion of a current story.

There are two other special sites in the “nucleus”: billboushka.com, which contains a small amount of static material that is selected to be more suitable for advertisers and is in a prettier format (I haven’t put the ads there yet). Johnwboushka.com will be used for resume and other critical business information only.

All of this is what could be called “knowledge management.” Technology, most of all search engines, is making it practical for one “retired” person, with moderate resources, to take this on. When this can me made available to the public at low cost, there is less reason for people to depend on lobbying groups or other organizations to represent and “protect” them. I see this as a new way to carry on the business of democracy.

There is an index to the blogs at the home page of doaskdotell.com, or through the profile here on blogger. Remember that the monthly archives of this blog can give a much fuller idea of what the scope of all the issues is.