Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blogger for hunters loses Outdoor Life career over "inappropriate" opinion


A sportswriter Jim Zumbo seems to have lost his television program and published columns with Outdoor Life for an opinion that he expressed on the Outdoor Life blog. True, this was done "at work" but it is a good example of where published personal opinions, even those that seem legitimate to a resonable person, can deep-six a career.

The news story is Blaine Harden in the Feb. 24, 2007 Washington Post, "...Remark puts Outdoorsman's Career in Jeopardy," at this link (may require charge or Post online subscription). The remark might have been construed as placing average hunters in a very negative light.

Zumbo suggested that outdoor hunters did not need to use assault weapons for legitimate hunting. The so-called "gun lobby" seems very intolerant of any lack of "solidarity" in its ranks over this issue. Hunters often have more money for campaign contributions to support their interests, but may offend others who are more passionate about the issue.

The news story suggests that lobbying groups are very sensitive to remarks that can drive away potential campaign contributions that would support their causes, or that would cause political fragmentation within their own ranks. This sort of problem could occur with any issue, including eldercare, health care, immigration, or even "gay rights."

That is why people, when they go to work for organizations that represent a particular point of view, should tread very carefully, and consider their real career aims. One wonders if this sort of concern underlies some of the reporter employer "spying" on Myspace and social networking profiles and blogs.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Digital Vigilantes


NBC4, a television station in Washington DC, tonight had a brief report on "Digital Vigilantes," who post pictures, video clips and accounts of misbehavior that they see in public, such as traffic offenses, bad parking, rude behavior, etc. Some of the sites mentioned were Platewire.com and Baddriving.com. Platewire encourages people to join and make their own postings.

I don't see anything wrong with posting bad driving or bad behavior in public places, including license plates. Tracking down people and posting home addresses (reported to be done sometimes) could raise legal invasion of privacy issues.

I often take pictures at political demonstrations and post them. Although I try not to focus much on individual faces, sometimes they show up. If you show up at a demonstration about anything, you could show up in the media. This used to be a problem for GLBT people going to parades.

I don't take pictures while driving (obviously, like cell phone use, a safety problem), although a companion could. I don't personally engage in digital vigilantism, but up to a point it seems legitimate.

The NBC4 report suggested that this is a legal gray area. The report says that digital vigilantes could harm people's "reputations" online, but as indicated before there are companies emerging that offer to clean up digital dirt. See this archive, look for Nov. 30.

For a related story on a local television (WJLA) demo of the ease of locating personal information about others, see this blogger entry.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Feb. 18 1973, a day of famy


Sunday, February 18, 1973, the first day of Pisces, was one of those clear, bitter days in the Northeast when the pollution has been blown away. "The days lengthen but the cold strengthens." The sun was getting higher in the sky, but I think this was the coldest day of a mild winter in northern New Jersey.

The main bus route from Caldwell, NJ went down Bloomfield Ave. descended the Second Wachtung Mountain into Verona (with its pond and pedal boats) and then up over theFirst Wachtung Mountain to descend into lower middle class Bloomfield, which echoed the days of my young adult activism with the Peoples Party of New Jersey (aka Dr. Spock). The bus would eventually wind up in the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 41st Street in NYC.

Today, however, I threaded a different route. I would cross the George Washington Bridge into upper Manhattan, for a "gay talk group" in an apartment building around 96th St and Broadway on the Upper West Side. I didn't know very much yet about the two or three Greenwich Village (s), and I was yet to discover the Ninth Street Center, then in the East Village, and learn all about psychological surplus and psychological polarities. So would an important episode in my life begin, when I would move into the Cast Iron Building in NYC (shown) 19 months later in September 1974, right after Nixon's Watergate resignation and just before Gerry Ford's pardon. Those were the days, my friend, and I miss them. From 1974-1977 I would work as a "mainframe" computer programmer analyst on the general ledger system for NBC in the Rockefeller Center. All very convenient.

The talk group brought together six men, most of them middle aged and tightly bound up in winter sweaters, although there was me, balding at age 29, and a kid named Stuart, who actually tried to talk me into visiting the Everard Baths the following Tuesday night. I didn't go. Instead, I was to go on a "business trip" for my job with Sperry Univac, a short jaunt to Princeton, NJ, for training on Univac 1110 internals. (A computer that is no longer sold, although there are a few installations left.) During the talk group, I asked what kind of men they liked, and most of them surprised me (pleasntly) by saying "older."

This was my "Second Coming," as I document here in my first book, 34 years ago today, the same day of the week on the Perpetual Calendar. The following weekend, I would celebrate with a self-date, skiing at Killington, VT (only stopping briefly at my Espy Road garden apartment -- in those days I left the apartment alone a lot without a thought about security), the only place in the country where you could ski as a beginner "graduated length method" from the summit of a major (4000 ft) Northeastern peak. Only gradually would I assimilate into my new life.

These were the days of Middle Earth, long before AIDS, the don't ask don't tell policy, the gay marriage debate, and for that matter 9/11 and Gitmo. Those were indeed the days. Though they were circumscribed by the closet, le placard. The leader of the group, a bulimic guy named Eric, said that you had to be careful about what the doorman of your apartment building notices. But this was 1973.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Personal website statistics tell me what visitors are considered about


Both of my two main personal sites (doaskdotell.com and billboushka.com) come with Urchin statistics packages that run once a day and tell me the number of page requests and hits on each file, the number of page requests from each major search engine or other domain or link, and even what countries. The reports also tell me the search arguments used by visitors to find the material.

I haven't yet figured out how to get the search arguments from Blogger (maybe somebody knows and can comment). But the Urchin stats on my main domains tell me a lot. I can tell that many visitors are concerned about potential issues that are relatively little covered in mainstream media, such as filial responsibility, certain forms of Internet censorship, potential uncertainties in tax laws or social security benefits laws, various issues with civil unions and domestic partnerships, the possibility of mandatory national service, and, of course, the granddaddy, "don't ask don't tell" for gays in the military and especially what might happen with it if there were a return to the draft. And, yes, on the movie reviews, I can tell that some visitors do have certain body image concerns.

I cannot identify specific visitors, although from server logs I can identify IP addresses for specific searches and, when the addresses are associated with specific companies or government agencies, track them down with a reverse WHOIS search (I cannot identify roving IP's such as AOL or other similar IP customers. Also, fixed IP addresses for high-speed or wireless connections from providers like Comcast or Verizon cannot be easily tracked to individual customers -- that may be reassuring.) In at least once case in 2005, this possibility gave important information about a serious workplace issue in a public school system. It would be possible to determine if someone accessed the site from work (in a situation where an employer forbids outside personal Internet surfing, which is common).

But domain reports are very useful to me in telling me what visitors want, and maybe even what they would pay for. When I learn that visitors have become concerned over some subtle question, I research it and usually modify one of the files on my sites with the information that I found, or, often, develop an appropriate blog posting. Therefore, if you, as a visitor, visit one of my sites with an unusual question, it is likely that you may find some kind of an answer in a few days if I can find something out.

Of course, I always welcome constructive comments or emails (with legitimate questions or reactions.)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Gospel and Biblical levels of individuality


I often hear that the early Christians practiced a very communal and "socialistic" lifestyle, sharing property. And the overwhelming emphasis on the Gospels of Jesus is on charity and sharing with the poor and on a non-judgmental view of the accomplishments or station in life of others. It seems as if the social injustice of different economic and political classes in Roman society in the Holy Lands was taken as a given, and did not need to be questioned.

Today, modern liberalism takes a different view. Class social injustices are to be rectified, and then it becomes much more plausible to view individuals as responsible for their own station in life. But both liberals and conservatives, for different reasons, want to put the brakes on carrying this kind of objectivism in "measuring people" too far. The blood family, or the community or union or other social unit demanding loyalty becomes a moral intermediary.

Today individualism faces challenges from all of those "inconvenient truths" like global warming and pandemics, which could force individuals to place much more personal value on familial or communal relationships in the future than in the past. The path to liberty is not always a straight line. It can backslide, too.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winning converts, winning arguments, and "fishers of men"


Shortly after my move to Minnesota, and in early 1998, after some time promoting my first book, I was quite active with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota. A strategic debate came up, about winning “converts” as opposed to winning “arguments.” Here is a link for one of my pieces.

You hear the same dichotomy in churches. Jesus wanted his followers to go out and recruit people. He talked about “fishers of men”, and we can debate whether that refers to casting a net, or to snaring someone on a hook with bait. An interesting parallel comes with Mormon missionaries: young men are expected to go out for two years at their own expense and proselytize their faith – win “converts.”

You hear discussions in mental health circles about the relative effectiveness of interacting with "people as people" (associated with extroversion) and "with ideas" (associated with introverts). Many more people like to manipulate others for social position and power than work with the ideas and content, but content-oriented people (and artists) are very adamant about left alone to develop their work. (Look at a review of Laney's "The Introvert Advantage," here (Jan. 22).

I spent thirty plus years in information technology as an individual contributor. I was responsible for making content operational and reliable in a production environment. I made no claims to “power.” But after a forced buyout and retirement, I found out what much of the real job market is like, especially for baby boomer "retirees". A lot of people “recruit converts” for a living. I have a background in life insurance and annuities, so a logical expectation is for me to go out and “sell” it. “We give you the words,” one recruiter said. It's easier to hire people on commission, of course, because you don't have to budget a fixed salary.

A lot of people make a living my schmoozing and manipulating others. At the extreme, it’s just hucksterism. Or it can be management and leadership. I won’t pass categorical judgment. For myself, I can only sell something that I had something to do with developing.

One thing about the blogs, websites and databases is to accumulate a mass political and social arguments, and a mass of factual histories (with bibliographic references), organized in a way that visitors can see how all the pieces fit. In a way, it’s an expansion of a political book series from Michigan called “Opposing Viewpoints.” It’s important for everyone to be able to see all the sides to an issue rather than succumb to the agenda of a particular salesman. However, a marketing person could be credible when he shows leadership in his own life and can constructively solve other people’s problems and meet their needs in his own personal life.

You run into this kind of problem in the school systems, too. With more mature students who know that it is in their self-interest to do their academic work, there is no real need to manipulate them. Yet educational philosophy is built around the idea of “manipulating” less mature minds so that they learn and find learning rewarding. Less mature students, especially, need confidence in their teachers as role models and as people, regardless of what the content is. Likewise, in business, families often feel that they need confidence in agents or people who service them as “people.” That is a problem for me, having spent 30 years living in urban ghettos, somewhat distant from mainstream concerns over family and child rearing, and not having proving myself up to that kind of task in my own life even as the tables turn in this post 9/11 world, One problem, becoming apparent as the global community becomes "reconciled" (as Clive Barker described it in his novel Imajica -- review here -- look on March 28) is that one has to “compete” as a “man” and prevail in order to provide leadership for others. I am very much a prodigal.

If I do become involved in winning converts to someone else's cause (where that someone else "gives me the words") then that cause helps identify who I am and in some sense circumscribes what I may do with my life later.

So, we need to categorize “the Truth”, too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Anything is fair game


Back in junior English (11th grade), when we studied American literature, the teacher annouced, "Anything we cover in class is fair game for tests." That phrase "fair game" sticks in my mind, beyond the idea that it could show up in a multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank item. (I remember the pop card quizzes, and her imploring, "Learn your facts about your authors!" There was a scene like this with an English teacher in the 1957 "American International" (of course!) horror classic "Blood of Dracula".)

In 11th Grade Virginia and U.S. History (the Virginia came first), the teacher was adamant about making the tests all essay, and marking points off for "leaving out" any single point in explaining why something happened.

The "nature of the beast" with political issues is that they are all interconnected, and any one issue has a bearing on many others in subtle ways.

So any subject matter is "fair game" on my blogs and websites. The way a particular subject matter get handled is another matter. But some people have an idea that one is incriminating or embarassing oneself by even dignifying certain disturbing topics. If one is well-adjusted to the competitive demands of the world, why are some of these things even issues?

What one actually says about oneself, either directly or indirectly through a narrative (or say using oneself as a protagonist in a play) is another matter. That gets into the "dreamcatching" idea discussed in earlier postings, and often done on social networking sites (and present a problem for employers when they find it).

More on bloggers and campaigns:

It's interesting to note the media stories this week about some of John Edwards 's (D-NC) paid bloggers being criticized for going over the top with "offensive" language about the president. How can you have integrity if someone else pays you for what to say and you pretend in public that this is your own? (Yet that is ultimately some of what the dispute about blogging and campaign finance reform amounts to.)

Related link on teachers in book blog: here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

DTV conversion mandatory Feb 17, 2009


Just recently, the media has started talking about the mandatory conversion of all broadcast television to DTV (Digital TV) by Fen 17, 2009 (a Tuesday, one day after President's Day).

Retailers are putting together websites to explain all of the consumer options. Best Buy and .CNET have a complicated information center, and Circuit City has a fact sheet that seems simpler to follow. Here is the link to the FAQ fact sheet.

It would appear that television manufactured since about 1998 would have the necessary tuners to work if connected to a cable service. They might not show high definition unless specifically manyfactured as such. The price range of teleivisons offered today is from about $300 on the low end to thousands on the upper end. Most HDTV's have 16:9 aspect ratios to accomodate common motion pictures. (That is 1.78:1 and the standard wide screen is 1.85:1, with Cinemascope usually 2.3:1 (sometimes there are other variations with high definition video). There is considerable complexity with the issue of digital recording, and most boxes from cable companies will probably change. There is also considerable controversy about copy protection (the DMCA) as noted in the last blog; it may be counter-productive except with the most popular, mass-market music and movies (people who like independent and educational films -- sometimes artists or content creators themselves -- are much less likely to disrepect copyrights anyway).

Added to all of this is the controversy about DVD formats, which now appears to be heading toward new machines that can play all formats.

I would sit on this for a while as the details sort out. In another year or so, the picture should be much clearer as to how it will all work. And hopefully (save a bird flu pandemic in Asia) prices will come down.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Steven Jobs suggests giving up on anti-piracy copy protection software


An article in The New York Times today, on p C1, by John Markoff, "Apple Chief Urges Shift on Piracy" reports that Steven P. Jobs, CEO of Apple, is now suggesting that companies sell music without intrinsic copy protection.

In 2006, The Cato Institute had sponsored a forum on whether enforcement of copyrights really helps content creators and publishers, and sometimes it doesn't. There is a link where I summarized this, and I have a blog entry dated Sept 30 on Tim Lee's paper on the DMCA and copyright. On the other hand, the National Writers Union has always vigorously pursued copyright protection for writers, especially electronic reproduction rights.

Jobs's comments reflect a criticism, that all of the copy protection technology is causing devices to be incompatible with many media, and that includes issues for the iPod. There is also a concern that scaling down copy protection for music would put similar pressures on movies and video, where piracy is perceived as a big problem. It would not eliminate the safe harbor take-down provisions of the DMCA.

Monday, February 05, 2007

MySpace and similar sites help solve crimes


A story by Martin Kasindorf in USA Today, Feb 5, 2007, p A3, "Websites host wealth of crime-solving clues" indicates a constructive use of social networking sites. Crime victims and sometimes companies post video of crimes in progress on MySpace profiles or similar sites. A number of students rioting at the University of Massachusetts were arrested based on cell phone videos posted by other students. Police have been tracking social networking sites, YouTube, and sometimes other personal sites for several years. On occasion, persons post valuable tips on these sites or send them to site owners.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hidden U5 form can blackball financial professionals


A story “Some Brokers Can’t Flee Past” on page C1 of the February 2, 2007 The Wall Street Journal, by Joanna Slater, discusses the U5 form that must be filed to the NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) wherever a trader, broker, or investment banker leaves a securities firm. Supposedly this information is supposed to be confidential, but some of it has apparently wound up in public sources, potentially even the Web. That possibility brings up a topic previously discussed on this blog, about companies that offer to protect "online reputations" of individuals.

Unlike the conventional employment market where employers are reluctant to say anything substantial on reference requests, securities employers use the U5 form to determine if the professional has been involved in misconduct. There are substantial legal impediments to challenging a false U5 form, which apparently resides in a doctrine called “absolute privilege.” It is much more difficult to correct than an erroneous credit report. Therefore, a U5 report could blackball a person from working in the industry.

I once started the interview process to become a life insurance agent (in 2005) and I may have seen questions about this form on the application form.