Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Atlantic Monthly: go ahead and get "facebooked"


I wrote about Facebook on this blog Aug. 29, but today I saw a good article, “About Facebook”, by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic, Oct. 2007, p. 148. Yes, “facebook” makes a better linguistic verb than “myspace.”

The story of its creation by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg recalls comparable saga for Napster founder Shawn Fanning (leading to a fun cameo appearance for Shawn in the movie “The Italian Job”).

What started as an idea for digitizing a college “facebook” for interacting became a modern paradigm for social networking, with an advantage (compared to Myspace and other platforms) that people should have some central group affiliation before joining up or meeting up just as “friends.”

That concept has led to the notion that Facebook, being somewhat less open-ended, is a more desirable model for managing online appearance than Myspace or simply creating one’s own persona on one’s own with blogs and websites and letting search engines do the rest. That is what I did, but starting in the late 1990s, when the Web was still as much a publishing and journaling or idea-dissemination mechanism as a means for direct networking. That would all change, of course, with virtual office, meet-up groups, and the proliferation of social networking as part of Web 2.0.

It is a bit scary that one company could determine how people ought to manage their presence or “reputations” on the web, when companies may consider this a big issue when their people go out and sell.

Today, in fact, BBC News had the story “Google opens up social networking
Google has launched a system that will allow developers to create applications for a variety of social networks.”

The story mentions the deal with Microsoft, passing up Facebook, and an OpenSocial system that allows members to code in html and javascript if they want.



Update: Dec. 6, 2007


The New York Times today has a story by Louise Story about an apology from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for overdoing it with dynamic notification of "friends" about purchases, "Apologetic, Facebook Changes Ad Program," here.

Picture: From the US Postal Service museum near Union Station in Washington DC -- and prescient.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cuban Missile Crisis ended 45 years ago -- while I was an MP at NIH



Forty-five years ago, in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis had just ended (officially on Monday October 29), and the days of the week of the perpetual calendar fell on the same days as this year.

In the wee early morning hours of Tuesday, October 30 (I still remember the date because it corresponds to Beggar’s Night) I was awakened by screams from a nearby room on Wind 3-West of the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. A nurse told a girl something like “quiet down, or you’ll get it in the muscle.” I was having trouble sleeping because of a heavy cold anyway, and, with neo-synephrine taken away, I depended on a saline atomizer.

I had become an inpatient on July 12. It sounded like a good idea at the time. The Kennedy administration was running a special program to research college students who had experienced difficulties adjusting in college, as this was a high national priority in this Cold War, Sputnik era. This happened a few months after my William and Mary expulsion on Nov. 28 1961 for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean of Men (see Nov. 28, 2006 blog entry) – something that was a form of semantic quibbling from ny Aspie-like perspective, but was like a confession in the minds of most people. I roomed with a student who had been forced to leave the University of Chicago, but most of the patients were actually there as “family” rather than “student” patients. The “family” people were more likely to be female and were likely to be less intact. We had three sessions of individual therapy a week (the therapists smoked in the rooms in those days), one group therapy, one family art therapy, and one unit government on Friday afternoons. One way mirrors were used to observe the therapy. Sometimes the group therapy got agitated: that same female patient pretended to become catatonic in one session and a male patient lifted her off the floor. I believe that one other patient on the wing was there for issues related to homosexuality.

I had finished one semester full time going the George Washington University and living at home in the spring of 1962. I took nine hours in the summer, and commuted to Washington from Bethesda a few times a week. I still remember the Friendship Heights bus line along Wisconsin Ave., and the little Atla Vista bus that went to NIH. As I recall, I took six hours in the fall, and still went by bus four nights a week “on pass.” I went home some weekends.

As best I recall, I was the only patient doing this. We all did occupational therapy in the mornings – learning to do a “repetitive task.” Since I was to be a chemistry major at the time, I worked in the cancer lab centrifuging precipitates out of urine samples from cancer patients. (The other thing that I did a lot was play the piano in the solarium – lots of Rachmaninoff preludes – even the grandiose D-flat prelude that ends the last set, some Chopin, some Beethoven).

My contact with the world “on the outside” would become critical. I usually arrived at GW in mid afternoon and could study in the student union. Television, albeit black and white, was available, and I recall hearing President Kennedy’s Oct. 22 speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis while eating supper in the student cafeteria before an evening class in English literature. I knew what was going on and how grave it might be.

The other patients, however, did not know or grasp what was going on, and as a whole the staff didn’t either. In a couple of group therapy sessions I mentioned it, and got rather brutal with my remarks. What would happen to “people like us” if there was a war? We were probably far enough away from the heart of Washington to survive a nuclear blast, but the world would have no use for people like us once back to stone-age survival mode. Curiously, we went to the National Art Gallery on a mandatory "group activity" on Saturday, Oct. 27, just when the crisis was at peak, just before Khruschev ("We will buy you") gave in to the quarantine.

The draft was in effect, but this was still the time of Kennedy husbands and fathers, that would be scrapped by LBJ for the war in Vietnam, although the divisive student deferments would remain in effect until the lottery was instituted in 1969 (with the draft ending in 1973).

Those were perilous times, and we should never take our freedom for granted.

Picture: NIH Clinical Center from a distance (2004); My NIH records, which I secured by the Freedom of Information Act in the 1990s when I wrote my first book. There are various tentative diagnoses in my records, like "schizoid personality" -- this was well before the days of ICD-9 and any modern understanding of developmental psychology (like Aspergers). I had to talk to a psychiatrist by phone to get the release of the records authorized.

In August, 1997, after publishing my first book, I visited the nuclear shelters at Greenbrier, W Va. The Cuban Missile Crisis was documented by the New Line film 13 Days in 2000 (dir. Roger Donaldson).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reader's Digest reports another important case of teacher speech on Myspace; more on work computer monitoring, too


Kim Zetter has an article starting on page 171 of the September 2007 Reader’s Digest, “is Your Boss Spying On You?” The link is here. Most of the article is old school workplace ethics, with special attention to employer monitoring of workplace computers (this has been going on for at least a decade now), and the lack of laws controlling it. Some of the firings discussed in the article seem a bit capricious, and she does give “seven rules to live by” including not blogging from work computers (unless blogging is part of the job and it is about work).

Only at the end of the article does she get to the more modern concern about personal weblogs and profiles, even those maintained from home. “Bloggers, too, are learning that they have little protection for what they say about employers on personal websites.” No kidding. That’s how Heather Armstrong’s “dooce” website got started (and how “dooce” became a legitimate English language verb). Zetter then writes “And some are finding that online activity can damage a career before it begins.” Zetter goes on to give a story about a student teacher (Stacy Snyder, from Millersville University in Pennsylvania) who was removed from consideration for a teaching career after she showed high school students her Myspace page, that happened to have a graphic on it with the words “drunken pirate.” The high school thought her conduct to be “inappropriate” and “unprofessional.” We’ve heard that before about attention-getting online.

There are other stories about this incident online, for example, on The Smoking Gun, "College Sued Over "Drunken Pirate" Sanctions Woman claims teaching degree denied because of single MySpace photo", here. Another story is Digital Journal, April 29, 2007 "Woman Who Lost Teaching Degree Over MySpace Photo Sues University" here.
There is another story on BBSnews that gives the univerity's and school district's side: "Student Teacher Denied Degree Needed "Significant Remediation"
Wednesday, May 02 2007 Edited by: Michael Hess "Conestoga Valley School District Disputes Claim in Stacy Snyder Lawsuit Against Millersville University," here.

When one hears about an apparently outrageous case like this and digs deeper, one always finds more than one side, and various circumstantial and motivational complications. Now, of course, it’s easy to say that a teacher shouldn’t bring up personal matters in class or show students a personal webpage, as a matter of policy. But there is “personal” and there is “really personal” (of the Ang Lee “Brokeback” or “Lust, Caution” variety). In this case, the modern grown-up world, I would think, understands that the student teacher’s inscription does not reasonably imply an alcohol problem or encourage underage drinking. Yet – I know there is disagreement – look at how the Supreme Court viewed the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case – where I think the Court’s interpretation stretched things a bit. School system administrators (especially now, given all the horrific events perpetrated by a disturbed few) are, in their fear of litigation, very defensive and very protective of kids, and very reactive to even a suggestion of impropriety, a knee-jerk reaction that confounds common sense. And the trouble is many mainstream employers, especially those employing people who represent the company outside of work publicly, have similar concerns about “reputation defense.”

There was another incident somewhat similar in tone to this in Indiana, in which there are repercussions for publishing both sides of the gay rights debates in a school paper The Tomahawk at a secondary school called Woodlan. (The story was by Megan Chase, and the journalism teacher involved was Amy Sorrell) The story is discussed on another blog, "Gay Equality and the Law," here.
Another account is in "Advance Indiana" here. Another account is at the Student Press Law Center, here.

I outlined my own experience with repercussions of my own political-quasi-personal speech while subsitute teaching, particularly on the July 27 entry on this blog. Here, in this newer case (the "pirate" case from Pennsylvania, above) there seems to be a similar concern about “self-incrimination” that, again, goes beyond reasonable interpretation of motives in the adult world.

I'll add that I never gave my own web references to students, but I did to a teaching intern (on a piece of paper) and that led to a sequence. However, I overheard students characterize me as the "gays in the military guy" so I know that many of them had looked me up with search engines and knew exactly what I had written.

It does seem that school systems and other employers have come (partly because of the way social networking sites promoted the idea) to view social "reputation" and the "implicit content" (the idea that free content must be interpreted as inciting something from others) interpretations given to speech as more important than intellectual honesty.

As for getting back to the older topic of workplace computers, I was always pretty conservative myself with work computers. Back at Chilton around 1982, the Dallas credit reporting company baldly warned associates in a written memo, “If you use corporate computing resources for personal purposes, you will be terminated.” That was in the mainframe days, and if you wanted a personal computer, you bought one (then it was expensive, relatively speaking). Roscoe libraries were indeed audited. But in 1999, after I had a domain (set up by a workplace friend), I almost got in trouble once when he and I were talking about Microsoft FrontPage (now replaced by Expression Web) at work – I wasn’t updating my domain at work, merely looking at a technology that I needed to update it that we didn’t use at work (we used Allaire instead). I wasn’t disciplined, and in general the manager’s alarm was short-sighted: it’s important for technical employees to be curious and learn things on their own, even if not all directly used at work. Yet, employer concerns over security and trade secrets and customer data confidentiality seem to grow only more acute, leading to zero-tolerance policies on personal use of computers at work. Off duty blogging and social networking policies, which I have long advocated, are a different animal altogether.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Children's charities, and where discussion of them leads


Back in 1977, while still living in New York City, I started a monthly contribution to Save the Children. After the layoff, and with reduced income in retirement, I stopped it in late 2002.

The charity would assign, on paper, a specific child which I was “sponsoring.” I would receive international mail from these children, in South America or Africa, once every six months or so. I was invited to respond to this mail if I wanted to, although I never did. During most of these years, I regarded this donation, to put it frankly, as “conscience money.” Contributing to an international children’s charity is by no means comparable to adoption or even foster care; one can always back out. The media, however, in recent years has increased the moral pressure to be open to adoption and foster care, even by singles; in some cities, ads requesting such can be seen at bus and Metro stops.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, society, while much more tolerant of someone like me as a matter of privacy, obviously did not welcome my involvement with the raising of children. In the 1990s, during the Clinton years, this started to change. Raising children was seen as somewhat a “village” obligation in which all should learn to participate. Even though voluntary, it would a common duty, in the sense that being able to participate in defending the country could be seen. Raising, in public, questions about gays in the military (in 1993) would lead to questions about gay marriage (the Hawaii cases in the 1990s) and even gay parenting. Of course, however, many gay men already had children, with visitation rights, as a result of previous heterosexual marriage. Now, many gay people, including men, say that they want to become parents; there are gay foster parents and in many states gay adoption and surrogate parenting are legitimate political issues.

At the end of his film “Planet in Peril,” CNN journalist talks about the “interconnectedness” of issues. That has been my approach on these blogs. Rather than focus more narrowly on problems that are obvious targets for detailed analysis from a civil libertarian point of view (the wiretapping and FISA issues, the copyright and DMCA problems, the tricky particulars of the network neutrality debate, internet censorship issues like COPA), I’ve tried to show all of these can be linked to mainstream issues, sometimes to a degree requiring unusual candor.

I am aware of the way many other blogs are set up, and I am certainly looking at ways to make these easier to track and index and open to wider ranges of advertisers. One approach that I will want to try is finding more factual material (legislative proposals or statutes, court cases, opinions) and rely less on speculation.

Update: Oct 29:
I have a posting on the MADD v MAIA "trademark case" on another blog, here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mainstream and amateur blogs blur together in their effect on campaigns; revisiting McCain-Feingold, campus speech


Conservative-to-libertarian op-ed columnist George F. Will provided a round-robin review of academic and campus free speech problems on Thursday, Oct. 25 in The Washington Post, p. A25, with a piece called “The 114.69 Speech Police.,” here. My own father (late as of 1986) used to note George Will’s merciless use of logic when he discussed anything on television or in the newspapers, and Will’s thought processes are rather like his. He told the story of Aaron Flint and his campaign for student senate at the University of Montana in Missoula. To counter well-organized opposition, he spent some of his own money on some posters, and was later removed from office for violating the university’s own “campaign finance reform” policies. He sued, his case went to the Ninth Circuit, where he lost to some circuitous rationalization from a usually liberal (and perhaps interventionist) circuit. Will mentions the duplicity even behind the Supreme Court's ruling on the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case in Alaska public schools. ("Advocating" drug use in connection with a public school is not as protected by the First Amendment -- but was that what now-English teacher Joseph Frederick was really doing?)

All of this comports, of course, with the debate that we had about McCain-Feingold over a year ago, and the “threat” that it was believed to pose to blogging. There is indeed, a curious paradox here. The “philosophy” behind campaign-finance is well intended to prevent well-funded special interests from buying influence and buying their candidates into office. But blogging has become an individualist as well as corporate activity, and it is, in practice, to tell where the source of a political ad is. A corporate ad on network television and a blog entry by me might both happen to say the same thing and support the same candidate and positions, but the psychological effect on the viewer or visitor is perhaps going to be very different (as well as the audience that is likely to be reached).

I reported (most recently in July of this year on this blog) how this controversy was related to an incident when I was substitute teaching. It appears to have been resolved with some recognition that the source of the speech matters, but even that, as Will points out, is troubling. Inherently there’s nothing wrong with, say, a pharmaceutical company flooding the network airwaves with ads about relief from product liability laws (they could, as we note, affect H5N1 and AIDS vaccine development) as long as other speakers can get appropriate equivalent attention for their views. And that depends on how well individuals pursue their own causes and how well they articulate and express their points.

Corporations and major newspapers and news broadcast channels have their own blogs by “professional” journalists, and the lines between the different sites and weblogs are getting blurred ineed. In the Friday , Oct. 26, 2007 Washington Post, Style Section, p C1, Howard Kurtz has a column “Mainstream Blogs Open Floodgates for Political Coverage,” a recounts an incident where Hillary Clinton called blogger David Yepsen about his entry in the Des Moines Register about her upcoming campaign plans. The candidates really do care, in detail, about what is being said about them. And well they should.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Can an employer pre-empt your income from your own intellectual property? Could SOX do so?


In the spring of 2005 I was contacted by a major mutual life insurance company and invited to consider the possibility of becoming an insurance agent and financial planner. The last twelve years of my information technology career had been spent in life insurance and annuities, so this business background could have attracted them. Could IU sell or would I sell?

I went to a Saturday morning orientation and passed a screening assessment on a computer. I could guess what answers “they” wanted.

The company actually sounded pretty good. Previously, in 2003 (actually dating as far back as 2001 right after 9/11) I had been contacted by another company seeking to “expand” by building franchises based on converting whole life insurance to term life, cited to be a multi-trillion dollar opportunity. This company, however, after initial certification (which is pretty easy to sell only life insurance, and takes much more study and examination to get the SEC licenses to sell securities) offered a huge array of company-paid training programs. All compensation was based on commissions (which in life insurance includes renewal commissions, which can provide a lot of passive income for years for an agent who has built up a large volume of business), but during the first three or so years the company would pay a “training bonus.” Health insurance and benefits (401K matches, etc) would be offered. The company did include sexual orientation as a category in which in practiced non-discrimination.

Early on, and even to get hired, a prospective agent would have to generate a block of leads. There was some technique to doing this. (I still get unsolicited emails about this all the time.)

I quickly began to see that my self-generated “publicity” could be a problem, although it did not come up. Instead, during the third meeting, the manager mentioned that agents would not be allowed to have any outside income during the first three years. In part this seemed related to the training bonus, but he said that it was a requirement of Sarbannes-Oxley (SOX). He claims that he even checked this with his compliance officer. I don’t see this myself in the literature on SOX, which does, however, have provisions regarding “conflict of interest.”

We checked in more detail about the “outside income” issue. It seemed like the pension was OK (it might not have been, since this is a competing company), and royalties from a previously published book were OK. But I could not sell any of my own intellectual property (books, screenplays, or even advertising revenue from blogs like this one) and be in compliance with the law.

That seems strange to me. Can a federal law stop one from receiving royalties from his own intellectual property, even it is “new” material? That seems to contradict everything we hear about copyright, especially all of the vigorous enforcement of copyright laws by record companies and movies studios.

It is true, of course, that sometimes employment offers come with "no moonlighting" policies, but royalty or other income is not necessarily moonlighting, which usually means more or less conventional part-time employment.

Of course, I would have respected confidentiality as is required in any employment. Public “reputation” from Internet activity, however, could obviously be an issue, as customers need to feel that they can count on the agent as a dedicated professional who puts his “profession” first. That even leads to another potential legal question. Is “right of publicity” a “property right”? It seems so, since common law protects the right to earn income from it, although one would have to show that one has proven that one can earn the income from it.

It does seem, however, that if one becomes an insurance agent, one enlists and "lives the life" and becomes something new.

Earlier treatment of this problem is here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Technobrega: New music technology and business paradigm in Brazil makes us think about copyright law and about how new artists compete


Recent media reports about a new music paradigm called technobrega, emerging in Brazil, especially in the Amazon city of Belem, have raised interesting questions about not only copyright but also about the way new artists promote themselves and get established.

In Belem, Brazil, artists make and record performances and encourage entrepreneurs, also (unfortunately) involved in regular CD piracy, to make cheap CD’s of their work and sell them in markets. Some artists are able to make a living this way, fitting in to a libertarian model about how new markets should grow – even in the world of Alan Greenspan.

This would be perfectly legal as long as the music performed was actually composed by the musicians. The law (particularly internationally) gets murkier when one performs rearrangements or “derivative works” – don’t do this without seeing a lawyer first. It would seem to invoke legal questions when performing other people’s songs.

The practice is controversial, and what’s not clear is whether it’s because of the “cheap competition” issue, or whether it’s because the musicians have no scruples about employing business people otherwise involved in illegal piracy and more conventional forms of copyright infringement.

Much of the material on the web about “technobrega” is in Portuguese, and the term is becoming established. A website called “Open Business” has an article “Technobrega shows off an open business model,” here. There’s no Wikipedia article on it (yet) but I would expect someone (I hope a musician who can address some of the technical and business details) will create one soon.

There is an AP story by Michael Astor “Music pirates seize city: Economy, artists thrive on illegal sales,” on p B5 of The Washington Times (Oct. 22, 2007) or on many other news paper sites, such as Bakersfield, CA here (it first appeared around Oct. 19). My only concern with this story is that it is not clear that all of this activity is actually illegal. I welcome comments.

Controversy at Libraries about Books on Web

In a tangentially related story, the New York Times reports today (Oct. 22) on p A1, in a story by Katie Hafner, “Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web: Tech Giants Rebuffed: Scanning by Microsoft and Google Comes with Restrictions.” Here:

These companies plan to scan libraries with a lot of public domain material but would apparently not allow the same material to be placed in competing libraries or be accessible to competing engines. Philosophical and “copyright related” questions come up as to whether one large company, however philanthropic, should control the access to more standard literary and scientific references.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Esquire UK: The Day the Internet Stood Still


The UK version of Esquire (which rather looks like GQ with men made to look like cardinals), which does not yet have much free content available online (site), has a provocative article in the October 2007 edition on p. 142. This essay is “The Day the Web Stood Still: Every day, the Internet becomes more integral to the lives we lead. So could the plug be pulled on the world’s most vital resource, and what would happen if it was?” The author is Tom Guest, with photographs by Simon Norfolk. The magazine cover has a picture of Scottish actor James McAvoy on the front cover.

The essay plays some games. “I remember what I was doing when….” It goes on to explain how name servers work, than some in the United States are fixed physical locations, and others around the world in multiple redundant locations. It theorizes that attackers would have to knock out a number of these, possibly with microwave-related EMP attacks. Actually, failure might be gradual and occur over several hours or days, and the length of time until recovery occurs. In fantasy, recovery might never occur.

An article like this is always scary. On September 4, 2001, one week before 9/11 (the day after Labor Day) I saw and bought a Popular Science issue at Wahlgreens with a story on how our society could be crippled by electromagnetic pulse attacks. The article probably made it look much “easier” to pull off than it really is. The idea has been experimented with in the movies, such as in Oceans 11 (2001 -- the last movie I would see before my layoff), usually very inaccurately from the point of view of the actual science. Later that week we would undergo an unprecedented virus attack at work, with two days of disruption. People said, “This is the real thing.” Then the following Tuesday morning real tragedy struck.

As I have often written, the public Internet, opened up in 1992, seems to have transformed society and given unprecedented “power” to individuals to promote themselves regardless of social background or of family or business loyalties. This does not sit well with everyone, obviously. It does comport with libertarianism and modern conceptions of individual sovereignty, which are enabled in large part by physical and expressive mobility, dependent on technology. There is a paradox: to become more “independent” of social connections and responsivity, one needs to depend on a stable technological infrastructure, which could be undermined by a number of exogenous threats, some of them natural and some manmade. The Esquire UK article does talk about social changes if the Internet dematerialized, with people having to depend on local resources even for food, and having to place more value of hierarchal and familial social relationships.

Of course, a longer view of history, as the article says, stresses a gradual increase in personal mobility, and this could always be undermined. The recent Jesse James and Yuma movies show how easily passenger train traffic could be disrupted and made unsafe by outlaws back in the 19th Century.

The story also brings to mind whimsical proposals in Omni Magazine back in the 1990s (while it was still in print) that technology could some day be able to download someone's brain onto a computer so that he or she could live forever digitally -- until someone pulled the plug or wiped it out with an electromagnetic pulse!

The Esquire UK issue should be available on larger bookstores and newsstands in the US and this article is well worth looking at. It hope it's appearance is not a prologue.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Home videos with incidental background music getting hit by takedown notices; speakers fight back


Takedown notices for amateur videos that include copyrighted background music are creating legal and social controversy, as in Catherine Rampbell, The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 2007, “Standing Up to Takedown Notices: Web Users Turn the Tables on Copyright Holders,” here.
These notices seem to follow the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA.

Sometimes YouTube has gotten notices when amateurs have shot video and used copyrighted materials incidentally playing on home entertainment systems. Of course, if a soundtrack is fed with copyrighted music, that would be illegal; incidental music (which is actually acceptable in the “Dogme” filmmaking technique) can cause issues too. I wonder what happens when someone goes to an outdoor event, like a July 4 celebration or an AIDSwalk, and records music that is performed outdoors by guest groups incidentally. This activity seems to be much more likely to result in DMCA takedown when posted on YouTube, Ebay, or a large service that copyright holders can easily track (as with P2P violations) than when posted on personal domains, which are harder to find.

In some cases, home users are starting to fight back and countersue for abuse of copyright law. It simply seems unsettled as to whether incidental background is “fair use.” I think it is, because the quality of the music is never comparable to what a customer gets when paying for the music in normal channels. Companies believe that they have an absolute fiduciary responsibility to protect all of their intellectual property, even in circumstances that seem frivolous or to violate common sense. Companies may be trying to squash uses like parody that are considered legal examples of fair use but sometimes subjective in nature.

I think a partial solution is to expand the capabilities for legal use. Music publishers should set up services to allow licensed music to be legally purchased on credit cards and downloaded for uses in self-published videos, possibly to be mixed into videos with products like Roxio which are often sold with computer purchases or are available online for either PC or Mac environments. (Higher end products are, of course, Final Cut and Premiere and Macromedia Flash).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So I am Michael Clayton II


In the recent hit dramatic film Michael Clayton, George Clooney’s character is confronted with the question as to why, after seventeen years in a law firm, he didn’t make partner. He seems to be in a morally ambiguous position as the asset person or “fixer,” the guy always on-call with a beeper, coming in to fix other people’s mistakes, doing thing real people don’t want to know about.

People can ask a similar question about my career, my thirty one years in information technology. Why didn’t you advance? They ask (and I don’t tell). I did carry a pager most of the time, like Clayton.

I could also say that when I decided (in a personal retreat in Colorado in 1994) that I would indeed write my “manifesto” generated by the gays-in-the-military issue, I was, then at age fifty-one, like a chess player trading queens into the end game, when perhaps I didn’t have to. The only way another middle game could come back would be simultaneous pawn promotions. Or, perhaps, I’m now in a situation like that famous Kasparov-Karpov “queen ending” in 1987 that could go on forever. In his recent book “How Life Imitates Chess,” Kasparov seems to feel that this particular game provides a metaphor to the stuck-in-gear position that happens at career menopause for many people.

In a number of situations in the past few years, people have challenged me to be open to showing more “authority” for its own sake. (As a kid, I resented it if I thought my father did something “just for authority” to train me, with no real logically apparent purpose in mind.) I was asked that question in an interview for a debt-collecting job in 2003. I was challenged this was in several substitute teaching situations (the euphemism is “classroom management”) where there was no point to engaging some particular student other than his need to be shown who is “boss.” In some family and job situations I am criticized for not being “protective.” And personally, I find the whole concept gratuitous and insulting.

In information technology, in fact, one could be a “team leader” without direct reports, and that is fine – I’ve done that many times (as with the National Change of Address project in 1998). On one occasion, however, in 1988, I was promoted to “project leader” (which in that company involved direct reports – it doesn’t everywhere) without my consent, and I left six months later.

I’ve noted on these web pages, that once one has direct reports or direct authority over others, one loses some expressive freedom, to speak the truth.

So would I advance? Absolutely, yes, but the job has to relate to some content that I have created or been materially associated with. I don't relish the idea of manipulating people to sell things (the old "overcoming objections" virtue) that I really did not develop, or of just being the spokesperson and magnet (and even supervisory "role model") for some issue that others "assign" to me. (That's all the more so if I have to give up intellectual property rights to unrelated things that I have created, which could be the case, say, for insurance agents, as I was told -- "no outside income" of any kind for some long period.) I can imagine heading up a project to use NCOA to quash identity theft, because I have been connected to the NCOA system in my work. Better, I can imagine a leadership role in political or social studies knowledge management (often discussed on these pages), and particularly on problems like “reputation management”. (No, I don’t want to start a “cheesy” service trying to take down unflattering search engine references; it is a lot deeper than that; and I don’t want to see employers collar objective speech by non-management employees.) What about working for gay rights or libertarian organizations? Actually, jobs with 501C3 ‘s are very difficult to get, and most of them are focused on one narrow issue, and my interest in objectivity is broad and goes across many areas. But I can see this happening with issues that I have a long standing connection with (gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell”, or internet censorship or even copyright and intellectual property rights management, the last issue being very complicated right now).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Social networking vs. self-publishing: Web 2.0 mixes up the concepts


I had my first web page in early 1996 (just one page, literally). Then Hometown AOL came along – it was clunky at first, but by October 1996 AOL was offering personal publisher with the ability to upload a sizable number of “speech” files. By 1997, it was practical to have my own domain name, and I got setup with someone I had met in the workplace. By late 1998, about the time that the COPA litigation got going, it was apparent that search engines were becoming a major social driver. For my own affidavit, lawyers wanted details about my own traffic, and the government, in trying to defend COPA last year at the trial in Philadelphia, had obtained records of search arguments.

My original concept of web publishing was to cast it as a supplement to book publishing. A major component of my early sites (then called hppub.com, now doaskdotell.com) was the “running footnote files” that added commentary to the material in the books, with URL links, to keep up with the “moving targets” in social justice debates. I had expected word of mouth to generate traffic, and for about a year it did, as my lecture at Hamline University (St Paul, MN) in February 1998 (from crutches) was broadcast on cable TV in Minneapolis several times. In time, and certainly by the beginning of 1999, however, search engine traffic had become much more important. This introduced a new dynamic. People anywhere in the world could find me. That could help sell me, or it could be potentially dangerous, given social and political context.

The major risks were that potentially it could disrupt the workplace. If someone makes decisions about others (as a manager, underwriter, or teacher who gives grades) and demonstrated unusual political views on the web (under the First Amendment) he or she could generate legal challenges in the way carried out his discretionary duties on the job. This point got debated in 2003 when I made up a certification tests in business ethics for a testing contractor. Still, the issue remained one that seemed to belong to “publishing law.” A large internet site should be viewed like a book, and legally was subject to the same risks (although in practice the risks were less). Media perils insurance companies started balking (in 2001) at insuring people who posted controversial stuff on the web (especially without third party supervision), because the risk was actuarially impossible to determine and seemingly so dependent on the whims of a volatile and unpredictable social climate. Still, all of this fell within the paradigm of publishing issues – self-publishing.

The ante may have increased recently with recent New York Times op-ed about “libel tourism” lawsuits in British courts by Saudi businessmen over at least one book that was not even published in Britain, and the speculation that this could spread to the web. I discussed this recently on my International issues and Book Reviews blogs.

But the “publishing” paradigm began to waver about three years ago as companies started up social networking sites, the two largest being Myspace and Facebook, which operate somewhat differently. High school kids and college students began using them (to the point that “facebook” became a verb, just like “google”). People started using them for gossip (to the point that a new CWTV series “Gossip Girl” about the idea has been created). But the main use (of the user-generated content) was to “meet people.” Soon professional social networking got born, and companies were created not simply to post resumes but to manage professional images and contacts online. Along with came the murky concept of “reputation defense”, often discussed in these blogs,

Social networking sites ("Web 2.0") have create companies with a dilemma. Because average people use them to “converse” and “meet up” (in fact, another variety is the “meet-up group site”), companies started viewing most amateur web content – including blogs and older content-heavy (and book originated) sites like mine, as intended to attract social and professional contacts rather than just to “get published” or influence political debate. Recent legal “scandals” about misuse of chatrooms (as documented by Chris Hansen on Dateline) only heighten public anxiety. That’s why reputation defense has become controversial. Companies have to worry about what “other people think” about anyone whom customers trust as a “professional,” when customers can find what the employees say on these sites. Generally, people are more likely to view such speech as "conversational" (not "literary" or "Socratic") and speculate about the ulterior motives of the speaker; otherwise acceptable speech might come across as inappropriate or even illegal enticement. Whitelisting the potential audiences for social networking profiles has not mitigated employer skittishness as much as one would expect. Furthermore, in some businesses, employers are starting to want to manage the online presence of their associates professionally (insisting that what "narcissistic searches" lead to results congruent with their professional presence), and want them to use social networking to actually generate leads for business. Simply staying off the networking sites (which some people may want to do) won’t be good enough. (Right now, I have a small site, johnwboushka.com, the first to come up on searches, that explains how I structure my web presence.) The Internet, and especially the social networking phenomenon, has turned the idea of personal lifestyle privacy upside down. Everyone is public, and this could expose some people to risks they had never contemplated before.

My social paradigm was to attract the kind of people that I wanted to deal with by posting well-researched materials on these social controversies. Actually, over the past decade, this has worked pretty well. The problem is that, in the future, others (especially employers) could insist on wanting to do this for me, diluting any sense of intellectual honesty. Many people, in fact, perceive speech as in reverse: one builds one's social position in a familial, business, and/or religious "hierarchy" and speaks only to promote those connections. To do otherwise (to attract attention with speech "out of turn" when one hasn't proven accountability to others) may spawn a new kind of security threat, as we have sometimes seen at least in Britain and Europe.

Remember, most of the time when people write or express themselves to “get business,” they express only one side of an issue, because they are paid to do so. It's this practical business requirement that helps generate catering to special interests in political forums. Writing or speaking in an adversarial maneer contradicts the expectation of intellectual honesty that I learned in high school (especially from one history teacher – see Sept. 14, 2007 on this blog), where one should account for all points of view in understanding a problem. (Of course, high schools do teach debate, as arguing one side or the other, as in the films "Thumbsucker" and "Rocket Science".) In a larger sense, if one wants to cover a political issue ("equal rights...") one has to cover all possible topics that can affect that issue, however remotely, and however that could affect some people's perception of the interests of the speaker. Full coverage and objectivity are what I’ve insisted on in these blogs and sites. Unfortunately, the growth of social (and “social business”) networking on the web confuses the idea that web speakers really even can approach issues with any kind of personal candor and honesty.

Update: Oct. 23, 2007

Janet Kornblum has a cover story on page 1 of the Life Section of USA Today (no online link yet), "Privacy? That's Old School: Internet generation views openness in a different way; schools warn against revealing too much." The story has a mention of PFIR, People for Internet Responsibility. It also mentions the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which studies the impact of the Internet on kids. 66% of teens with social networking profiles keep parts of them hidden. Authorities still are concerned about the risks to kids of attracting predators, and at least about remote threats to families of kids since it is relatively easy to track "public" people down even when they do not publicize all of their personal information; this may be a bigger matter in Europe than in the U.S.

Update: Oct. 29, 2007


NBC Nightly News today reported on the corporate practice of giving associates higher titles ("vice president") without more responsibilities. Donald Trump said that he loves to give out higher titles that don't require more pay. This is contrary to the flattening of organizations and increase in span of control that was advocated in cost-cutting and "total quality management" in the 1980s and 1990s. Giving someone a higher title could increase the risk of conflict of interest with the person's own speech, as already often noted.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Teacher career-switching: do candidates need parenting experience?


I talked about substitute teaching and my withdrawal from it on Sept. 24, but I want to add some more general remarks about where teaching is headed, based partly on what I saw, and also on media reports about the paucity of male teachers as role models (and the reluctance – sometimes augmented by outright fear or paranoia – of men to enter teaching, especially with younger kids), as well as constant questions about the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind and the laws concerning special education programs. I have attended a few licensure orientation sessions (such as those offered by George Washington University) and I can certainly anticipate the psychological interview questions that could come up had I ever decided to apply for a Master of Education or “career switcher” program. Doing so would mean a financial investment on my part that must be justified by my own goals and the practicalities of the political climate, balanced against some of my own speech.

What I saw over 200-plus assignments (plus SOL binder grading) over three years in Northern Virginia was that the demand places as overwhelming emphasis on younger children and all of those with special needs. A career teacher below college level is, in most cases, accepting the fact that his or her role in life is to educate the next generation and actually help raise that generation, not to create original artistic content or become famous as an artist or sophist. Teaching is an adjunct to biological reproduction and family.

So entering teaching is especially problematic for a male aged over 60 who spent thirty year or so in urban exile. Yes, a gay male—but this comment is deceptive unless followed through carefully. I spent those three decades with an emotional life of my own, living in a separate, though reconciled Dominion with its own psychological wonders (British author Clive Barker’s analogy in his 1991 fantasy novel Imajica is a good way to put the concept). I lived a life that did not require connection with children or non-intact persons. This may seem callous now, but at the time I was not even aware of what I was “missing.” As I discussed in the previous blog entry, external threats since 2001 have made us aware of interdependence and connectedness as virtues, more than we were before.

Although teachers sometimes produce valuable literary works with their students (“Freedom Writers” for example) in general they live in and articulate a sheltered world where not all things can be presented completely truthfully. They work in loco parentis, as role models, and have to assume some of the responsibilities of “protecting” children deferentially. They may indeed resent this expectation of “coddling,” particularly with special education issues. Public speech (whether “conversational” as in social networking or “literary” as in articles) by teachers has become a genuine First Amendment controversy, as content becomes problematic not only over its own legality but because of what students or parents might infer (sometimes incorrectly) about the speaker as a role model.

I’ve said that a career switch might have been more realistic for me if I had full legal equality. The military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy sets a precedent that can be legally problematic for male gay teachers who stumble into intimate care duties. I would feel better about this if the ban were lifted. Even so, though, there remains an issue of personal fulfillment. Can one suddenly start “playing family” at my age? Perhaps there is a social need -- to provide male role models for kids that lack them -- that I would do so even if I otherwise wouldn’t. I do have a problem with "connecting" as a "male role model" to non-intact (male) kids and working with their parents when I do not experience or support the intimacies that create children in the way I lead my own life. I don't have a problem with that expectation from students who have some adult notion of proper self-interest.

There is no such problem for younger people who decide to enter teaching. Even young gay male teachers would need a safer and more legal environment, but no one is going to wonder about their own history as family providers at younger ages, and kids need young adult male role models (of all ethnicities) whose behavior exhibits leadership and good character. It’s better that the younger teachers have some experience with child care, as with siblings, or perhaps even volunteer work like tutoring. In a situation like mine, as a much older person (by a few decades) it would be better if I had tried marriage and having children even if I had divorced (because of sexual orientation) because then I would have the child care experience. Other than that, only some other focused effort (like religious preparation such as what the Catholic Church, however questionably, provides) would prepare me to accept the psychological goals.

There were several occasions with special education assignments (not always voluntary) where I was asked or expected to perform in some ways that I was uncomfortable with or not prepared for. In one case, I was asked to don swimming trunks and get into the deep end of a pool, a clearly inappropriate request (I won’t linger on the existential meaning to me of such a request, other than to say that it sets me up as a distorted "role model" for someone else's agenda, and it leads down a disturbing path of logic). In another case, a guidance counselor sat in on a class because I could not “protect” a particular female student (again an inappropriate comment). In another three-day assignment about three years ago, I was supposed to work with an apparently retarded teen, who seemed inert at first, but then on the second day started responding to me in unusual ways, greeting me in hallways, etc., suggesting to me that he was not as retarded as I had been told. If I had kept working there, would I somehow have “reached” him? Is this some kind of moral question? In various cases I saw (and even conversed with) individual students who had been characterized to me by teachers in ways that don’t match the literature on various developmental disabilities (autism, Asperger’s, various clinical forms of retardation) and I wonder how professionally individual students in public schools are evaluated. This week, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on whether school districts can be required to pay for private school placement of such students when they don’t have the staff to do the job.

There still remains a question as to the need for teachers in more advanced science and math classes, and whether the need is great enough to justify separate programs. I could have brushed up on the math enough to handle teaching AP calculus. Northern Virginia has a separate public high school (Thomas Jefferson) for the academically advanced, and it could be possible to develop a career switch to meet this need, if strong enough, that does not have the same “fathering” (or otherwise loco parentis) implications.

Policy makers should take experiences like mine to heart. The "math" part of the job, teaching math, to receptive students, might have been fun. There may be plenty of people, coming from other vocations, who would become teachers if the political climate were less turf-oriented and less hostile (sometimes it's downright dishonest). Under the current Bush administration, it has gotten pretty horrible. And we go overseas now to recruit teachers. Does this make sense?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Morality: depolarizing the culture war debate with "psychological economics"



About a decade ago, on Monday, August 11, 1997, shortly after publishing my book after I returned from a weekend touring the Cold War bomb shelters in Greenbrier, W Va, there was a team building event at work, three weeks before I would transfer to Minneapolis. That evening we went over to Great Falls, MD on the Potomac for an evening of kayaking. Most of the people were gung-ho for it, and a couple of them were accomplished kayakers and river swimmers. I, of course, am not. The evening was to start with a “lesson” in which I had to demonstrate that I could emerge from underwater if the boat flipped. Of course, given my lack of “physical courage” (maybe I am too much like Robert Ford in a recent hit film) I failed out on that and had to sit out the evening as a spectator. It looks back to olden days, which I was the “last picked”. I’ll come back to this.

This posting is an overview of our moral thinking. I’m particularly concerned about what personal moral standards are expected from those of us who are somewhat “different,” when it is still clear that others feel we do not pull our weight and have a disparate impact on those with more “responsibilities.” So this comes down to a common denominator of "earning one's keep" in a non-monetary system of merit and personal values, a kind of "psychological economics."

Back in 1997, I wrote this in my book’s Introduction: “do we believe in the principle that every adult person is totally responsible for himself or herself?” That, in theory, sounds like a foundation for liberty, at least in a libertarian perspective. Furthermore, our legal system has, over the years, come to work as if this were a central principle. We have adult individual sovereignty, equality before the law, and personal responsibility as an individual granularity as a central principle – in most things. Libertarian notions of harmlessness, non-aggression and honoring voluntarily entered contracts form the core of this view of moral thinking. It gets nebulous on family matters. What’s becoming clear is that many people don’t fully accept this idea, and believe that socialization and “fitting in” to the general good are moral imperatives, too.

The lynchpin for more collective thinking seems to be religion, and the demands of God. In fact, the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament seem in some ways to be anti-individualist. They stress forgiveness and placing others ahead of oneself in line. Yet, the also have a paradoxical libertarian underpinning, as in Jesus’s parables like the story about the wages for workers in the vineyard. Early Christians lived a large communal, socialistic existence and practiced “Kingdom economics.” The overriding concern seemed to be living in a hostile world, where individuals had to cooperate to survive. The question is whether the sharing was just a matter of pragmatic flexibility, or a deeper acceptance of the goals of others when society did not offer the freedom – or stability -- to pursue one’s own. Judeo-Christian society would somehow overcome this paradox and develop strong ideas about individual freedom, where as Islam, for example, seemed to retreat into collective obedience. Is this intrinsic to the faiths or just historical outcome? One paradox that Christianity would have to face is that freedom itself can be misused and re-impose oppression from unexpected sources.

Political systems have had to deal with social justice, inequality and unfairness. Progressive political reform has tended to stress group measures (such as tax-funded programs) as a way to rectify huge injustices. Yet, philosophically, one has to track unfairness back to the behavior of individuals. In the 60s and early 70s, one often heard indignation on the far left about “undeserved” personal wealth (such as “inherited wealth”) along with calls to expropriate it. The many atrocities committed against innocent people, by governments, asymmetric non-state actors and sometimes unstable individuals, usually reflect a conviction in the minds of the perpetrators that they are exacting some kind of “moral” justice, however unacceptable their thinking or acts may be in the modern democratic world. But in general, the public seems concerned, with moral aims, about how risks and burdens are shared among individuals, more than perhaps the law itself expresses. Ken Burns makes this point in “The War” about how past generations, compared to ours, shared sacrifices; Ross Perot talked about this in his 1992 presidential campaign. Morality used to encompass this kind of issue, and it seems like we’ve had been forgetting this until 9/11.

On a personal level, most wrongdoing (the “Cheating Culture” described by David Callahan in his 2004 book) is ego-related, but in conventional society it is often “rationalized” by providing more for one’s family, or pretending to do so. The need to keep a relationship and have the affections or attentions of another against the will of another, and jealousy, also drive much wrongdoing. These sorts of acts often come from people who have relatively limited expressive talents of their own and who place a great significance on social position and on the loyalty of others.

Sometimes the opposite can occur. One can have talents and an expressive world, but not reach others, and develop a fantasy world that seems odd to others but that sometimes looks dangerous or threatening. Such persons may seem personally “selfish” but they typically don’t seek direct power over others or become jealous. They may be easily undermined by outside external forces that they cannot control, and not have social relationships (or faith) that would give their lives meaning in difficult circumstance. The latter situation applies more to me. Being "wired" differently would not "excuse" me from paying back "moral obligations" of social responsibility to others.

Much of the “moral” dilemma that I face concerns the family. Others may feel that the expressive freedoms that I claim (largely within the law, as shown by the COPA litigation, elsewhere on these blogs) interfere (by distraction and by competition) with intergenerational and interpersonal responsibilities and commitments, especially lifelong marital commitments necessary to raise children. I went through this in detail on another recent posting.

While this seems to focus on homophobia, it really is broader than this. Most people perceive family as an experience that has a meaning in social and perhaps religious context, beyond. It is a natural function leading to natural rights and responsibilities. On the surface, it might seem to some people that everyone has a “natural” (or Biblical) obligation to procreate, but responsible science (even with many animal species) doesn’t back that up. True, the “immutability” arguments don’t “excuse” harmful conduct, but anti-homosexual arguments seem to lead back to the not evenly shared encumbrance that society seems to place on many people in raising their kids. Nature is more like a Mandelbrot set, needing diversity, sometimes in ways that appear regressive at first, in order to flourish. The overall result of such a philosophy is that society could expect “outliers” (gays, extreme introverts, or others disinclined to parent) to behave in a manner that is supportive of, rather than competitive with, the families of others. The celibate priesthood and convents in the Catholic Church (however justified theologically and however flawed in practice) reflect this notion.

Some of the "gender responsibility" training ("girls first") seems related to an overall sense of accountability to others (my life is not completely my own if others raised me, and others need differentiated responsibilities from me), and some of the socialization, or responsiveness to people, seemed predicated on the idea that it would generate "normal" heterosexual interest and family responsibility--the acceptance of which comes across as a moral justification for having more than other people in a competitive world. Maybe all of this makes sense, but it won't preclude homosexual interests or upward affiliation.

It’s reasonable to survey a lot of different personal moral codes around the world, and come up with a list of common principles.

Some of these would seem to be
(1) Avoidance of bad karma. That is, don’t predicate your advances on the unseen sacrifices of others (pretty hard to meet)
(2) Reproducibility. That doesn’t necessarily mean reproduction. But it does mean that a lifestyle shouldn’t be predicated on processes that can’t be continued indefinitely. This keys into the “living off current sunlight” problem in the global warming issue.
(3) Empathy. One should have some connection to the emotions of others.

One can imagine how these “moral” concepts drive many religious and more fringe-like political groups.

More practical rules would be something like (I’ll indulge and address the reader in the second person.) One can cogitate on how these can become practical expectations even in a libertarian government, and not necessarily be legislated. But they would be expected of those who want to be respected.

(1) Even if “you” don’t have your own children, you don’t get out of family responsibility. Filial responsibility laws may well become more important in the future. And sometimes childless people wind up with other people’s children (in the movies and soaps, at least). Fighting for other people can be very difficult if one hasn’t one’s own lineage going forward. Everyone should be comfortable with childcare and care for and “connection to” others at different life stages. Those who do not have personal responsibility for the next generation in some way may be expected to make "sacrifices" for those who do.
(2) Yes, responsibilities for things like national defense and other kinds of service should be shared.
(3) “Pay your dues.” Do your share of the grunt work, the graveyard shifts, and don’t become too dependent on others to do it for you. (This affects the immigration debate; and it drove far left wing experiments such as the Communist Chinese “Cultural Revolution” of the 60s. But it was also the genesis of making kids comfortable with doing their share of chores and “manual labor”.)
(4) Accept the idea that you may have to learn interdependence with your biological family (whether “yours” or not), neighbors or community in a real externally-driven crisis.
(5) Your work should do observable good for specific people. As a corollary, if you take advantage of new technology to promote yourself globally, be accountable to someone. At times, you may need to prove that you can support others besides yourself. (I recall an edict in a televised 1999 sermon from a non-denominational Bible church in Minneapolis, out of character for the area as whole, "find somebody to be accountable to.")

The last point is tricky, to say the least. It suggests one of those theorems that go in both directions (with a true converse). Use of skills and abilities to affect the world “globally” ought to be mediated by family responsibility and accountability – as a break on the dangers of asymmetry. (History shows that these dangers existed long before the Internet.) But, conversely, civilization needs more that reproductive family: it does need science, ideas, culture, philosophy; otherwise it can degrade into tribalism and superstition. Man cannot live by brawn alone (“Into the Wild”) but not by brains alone either. Morally and ethically, it turns out that the balance of the two matters.

American law (to a lesser extent, the laws in other western countries) stresses free speech, with a growing emphasis on individual speech. Constitutional battles over Internet censorship (like the CDA and COPA) have led to the general conclusion that the “free entry” offered by the Internet and exposure of children does not justify outright censorship; a large amount of responsibility for protecting minors must rest with their own parents. How much the rest of us should restrain ourselves and "play family" (or "play church") sounds again a bit like this “village” question, but the practical challenges to less computer literate parents are daunting. Individuals who feel “connected” to other generations in a “village” sense may show more restraint and be willing to accept the neighbor-directed Biblical responsibility of being their "brother's keeper". Those appearing less connected might be viewed as contemptuous and inclined to attract enemies, a serious concern.

An important aspect of global speech is the relationship of the content to the speaker. We’ve learned that from the concerned way employers react to content that they find on social networking sites. Although content may be legal and acceptable to a large public audience, it might lead others (stakeholders) to make inferences about the speaker, that he or she cannot continue to work in a particular place in good faith. Therefore, speakers must always consider their responsibilities, which may be greater than they think or want, when they speak globally. There has always been a question about suppression of speech: why are politicians so afraid of it? Why was sedition once a crime and a mortal sin? (Woodrow Wilson, remember, would jail people for criticizing the draft.) One reason is that speech – even pamphleteering on the margins – today that’s blogging and profiling – is sometimes very effective. You can have it both ways.

This all leads back to me and the kayaking, I suppose. I have encountered some difficulties with all this; and in recent years certain parties have not respected me, as if I were automatically a second class citizen to live at the disposal of others because I had not married, had kids, and procreated family responsibility on my own. I do have my own emotional world, however inward-looking and aspergian; I do need to figure out how to sell this mass of interconnected dots that I’ve talked about. Ultimately, a pamphleteer needs to prove that others will pay for what he or she says, to do good for others. I would be more credible if I had done the manly things when I was a boy – one does need to learn to do them – and if I had followed my first choice of passion for a life’s work – music. I was a bit chicken then because of the draft and Cold War, a burden of my time that had to be shared.

But it is also true that full legal equality in areas where one serves the public good (like the military -- remember "don't ask don't tell", and family matters, like marriage and adoption) would make it easier for individuals like me, otherwise very much second class citizens, to do so. There is a paradox and a synergy: one needs these kinds of “rules” to depolarize the political climate, but one needs the equality to follow the “rules.”



Update: Dec. 30, 2007

A reader questioned whether I can "practice what I preach" (and so also for Anderson Cooper) and grab a hammer and go down to New Orleans. Look at the comments to the Aug. 29 entry on my TV blog, link here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Free Flow of Information Act: what about citizen journalists or networked journalism?


Today, Oct. 4, 2007 former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, on p A25, “…Or safeguards: Limited Protections Are Vital to a Free Press”. (Here.) He had written previously on June 29. He supports the current version of the Free Flow of Information Act, which is supposed to provide oversight to government demands that reporters disclose confidential sources. In general, according to the bill, they may do so only when there is great peril and the government does not have any other practical sources of information to prevent a major crime. Most states and the District of Columbia have reporters’ shield laws. But there have been several major cases recently of professional journalists (Judith Miller) or even amateur bloggers being jailed for refusing to disclose sources. For example, I had discussed the case of Josh Wolf back in April, here.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a page on “the reporter’s privilege” and it is somewhat unclear what the status of “amateurs” is. The link is this: There is also a Reporter’s Compendium that analyzes state shield laws, here.

The proposed federal shield legislation has several bills and forms and different provisions. The original House version in 2005 (HR 581) (link) appears to be favorable to amateur bloggers. The newer 2006 version from Lugar and Specter (S 2831 -- Thomas loc link) seems to protect only those who make a living through journalism. But even that provision has had some vicissitudes and could get changed.

Here is the current definition of journalist in that bill: (from the reporter's compendium link.)

"a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing news or information as a salaried employee of or independent contractor for a newspaper, news journal, news agency, book publisher, press association, wire service, radio or television station, network, magazine, Internet news service, or other professional medium or agency which has as one of its regular functions the processing and researching of news or information intended for dissemination to the public."

As a practical matter, would “amateurs” need a shield law? Wolf did need one. In general, for me, the likelihood is very remote. On a few occasions, since 9/11, individuals have shared (as through email) information with me that I thought serious in nature and I have turned it over to law enforcement, or a couple times just to security management within an ISP (which will have an automated way to report “minor” high-volume law enforcement problems like spam and scams). A blogger with emotionally provocative content may, on rare occasions, attract “tips” or information that probably should be turned over. I have had one extended phone call about one tip, and of course I never hear what is done with them, but they will be compared to other information collected by intelligence agencies for credibility or repeatable patterns of information from multiple sources. One problem, from 9/11, is that government agencies were not connecting the dots very well and in infrequent occasions amateurs might know more than professional law enforcement. Online compendiums and search navigation may add to the ability to “connect the dots.”

The "reporter shield law" issue could become even murkier with new paradigms of “networked journalism” or “citizen journalism.”

Update: Oct. 11, 2007:

There is an important story in The New York Times today, p. A27, on "libel tourism" where foreign businessmen can sue Americans for libel in Britain, a kind of "forum shopping." Blogger link and discussion is on the International issues blog, here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Parental Leave issue is another good example of the need for objective web rendition



Last week there was discussion of mandatory paid family leave, which I wrote about in some detail here.

Paid maternity leave is the kind of issue that illustrates why I think a well-recognized Internet repository of both political opinions and supporting facts would be a good thing to develop. I’ve discussed how this should work on numerous previous postings, such as one Monday on my information technology blog, here. There is more discussion of related issues on this blog Sept. 22.

What tends to happen with an issue like this is that a group of people who would benefit from a public policy change have lobbyists represent them, and the various lobbying and political advocacy or political action groups mass email (or snail mail) their constituents and ask them to write their representatives (usually Congressmen) with one-issue form letters. Of course, it’s easy for any one affected to demonstrate the benefits that a public policy change would bring for them. The other side of the fence, of course, is that someone else (not in the constituent group) must “pay” or “sacrifice” for this benefit, at least most of the time. A lot of times, these “others” will be diffuse and it is not easy to see what the cost of the policy change to them could be.

A “political opinion” database, if it is well known, professional, and easy to navigate to get back to original facts, will, by its very existence, make it harder for politicians to get away with bending to special interests. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (as in the 1939 Frank Capra film from Columbia) without the risk of being framed.

Wikipedia and similar compendiums, by being encyclopedias, must stick to “facts”. Nevertheless, a purely factual presentation of an issue (with no opinionated editorializing) can lead to an interesting perspective, particularly with an issue like maternity leave. I tried keying in “maternity leave” into Wikipedia, and got redirected to an article called “parental leave” (that would logically include paternity leave, too) and a very interesting chart giving the policies in detail for many countries. It does make us wonder how these countries make the sacrifice work. The footnotes even mention the declining birthrate problem. (It gives MomsRising as the leading pressure group.) Good job.

I’ve accumulate a huge panoply of “dots” about all of these various of issues and organized the books, websites and blogs in order to “connect” them. What I see is a disturbing totality, and I wonder how many policy makers grasp all of it. But there needs to exist a more generic way to put it out.

Picture: A Washington DC Metro ad, from another advocacy org. Other picture is a historical marker in TN for the Scopes trial on teaching evolution in public schools.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Qflix: new legal DVD burning of downloaded movies, media reports today


Media reports recently discussed new opportunities for consumers to burn DVD’s of movies downloaded from the Internet for their own use legally, in a way that it might be played on any player. The legal use would be personal use on any DVD player or computer drive owned by the individual who purchases the software legally and downloads the movie legally. Of course, it would be legal to use for any work created by the user.

Hollywood studios had agreed to the concept in January 2007. Media reports indicate a change in federal law. The details are somewhat complicated. The Fox AP story from January 2007 is here.

NBC12 in San Francisco has a story today, “New law lets people burn DVDs legally” here. The story was reported on NBC4 in Washington this evening.

The system is called Qflix and it was introduced by Sonic systems.

I hope that the legal changes will make DVD burners cheaper and more efficient for amateur independent filmmakers wishing only to distribute their own work.

Copy protection has long been controversial, and a nuisance that can interfere with legal distribution of one's own work. Various libertarian think tanks have argued that overzealous implementation of copyright law in the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) really does not protect the rights of content creators effective or improve their financial results.

Qflix should not be confused with Qflicks, a British DVD rental service.

Update: Oct. 3, 2007


Frank Ahrens has a story on page D01 Business of today's Washington Post, "With Video, Music Piracy on the Rise, NBC Chief Calls for Tougher Penalties," here.
Jeff Zucker, president of NBC-Universal, indicates that overseas operations are still a huge problem. The hit show "Heroes" was mentioned.

I can recall that in the early 1960s, counterfeit phonograph records sometimes appeared and were considered a problem. It could even happen in the classical business. Once I bought a two record set, cheap, that purported to be Deutche Grammophone and inside had two noisy disks with DGG labels by hard scratchy vinyl (it used to be called "Decca vinyl" long before that company was restructured into what it is today).

Update: Oct 4, 2007
. Major jury decision in Minnesota on RIAA P2P copyright lawsuit, blogger entry here.