Tuesday, June 30, 2009
"On the Commons": Law schools put out paper on intergenerational justice and rights of future generations
David Bollier has a few intriguing articles from “On The Commons.” One is “The Rights of Future Generations,” summarizing an article from Vermont Law School, link here. The report is called “Recalibrating the Laws of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice”, by Burns. H. Weston at the Climate Legacy Institute at the University of Vermont and the University of Iowa, and Tracy Bach, URL here. There is a Model National Environmental Legacy Act and a concept of “Legal Guaridans for Future Generations”.
On Alternet he has an article “’More, Better, Faster!’ How our spastic digital culture scrambles our brains”, here. A subtitle is “The digital communications apparatus is crowding out deeper relationships and more deliberative modes of thinking.” There is a “loss of leisure” and obsession with building an instant-gratification communications apparatus when sometimes we have nothing to communicate (rather like a famous line in “Cool Hand Luke”).
Bollier gets a nod in another “On the Commons” piece by Jan Hively, “The Shift from Me to We” here. Bollier is quoted as saying “A commons arises whenever a given community decides that it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with a special regard for equitable access, use, and sustainability.”
What strikes me about all of this is how our notion of “self-concept” has evolved in the past three or four decades of growing “individualism.” The focus on “personal responsibility” can work for certain kinds of people really well and make them productive with little need for social inter-dependencies. But one of the points of a community is that it does have to deal with taking care of and giving “value to” everyone, so “logically” then responsibility means sharing responsibility for others as well as for your own bills. "Sustainability", as a virtue, transcends "personal responsibility." The “family” used to be the main instrument for fomenting these more collective values – and the emotional component of its nerve center – everlasting marriage – has essentially been hollowed out, rather like a mountain with too many coal seams. Families and to some extent communities “impose” on people to develop interpersonal “skills” (I use the term broadly) that go way beyond what people believe necessary for their own chosen goals, because, beyond the capacity of choice, one never knows when he or she will have to step up for others (the “you’re elected” problem). We see this now with eldercare (and the evolution of a “medical Gestapo”). We also see that “families” used to be the conduit for generativity – having an emotional investment in future generations, and willing to sacrifice for the future -- with the willingness to accept some limits on self-generated logic and reason and accept some "non-rational" motives. The behavior of the “family” in recent generations hardly bodes well for “intergenerational justice” and the “Rights of Future Generations.” Filial responsibility could turn out to become a key concept after all.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The First Amendment Center offers a detailed and instructive analysis of the limits of constitutional protection of speech that may advocate violence, in a variety of circumstances. The name of the article by David L. Hudson, Jr. is “Landmark case set precedent on advocating force,” link here. The core case is Brandenberg v. Ohio (1969) about Ku Klux Klan member Clarence Brandenberg.
The article goes all the way back to the sedition laws prohibiting criticism of the World War I draft to analyze when the government may prohibit speech that seems to entice people or encourage violent or lawless action. The general standard that has evolved in most cases is “imminent threat of lawless action” can take speech out of First Amendment protection. The “imminent lawless action” standard has tended to replace the “bad action” standard in use, especially by state syndicalism laws. It has loosely come to be known as the “Brandenberg Test.”
The law seems to need to distinguish between incitement and threats. First amendment scholar Rodney M. Smolla. ““The two — incitement and threats — are cousins and it is often difficult to determine which exception is most applicable in a specific case.” In a threat case, he said, “the harm takes place immediately, as the First Amendment doesn’t protect the use of words to engage in extortion and placing persons in immediate fear.”
There are some questions, of course. One area of concern would be the war on terror, and the practical effect of some of the speech that occurs in radical Islam. Another related area would concern war crimes.
Still another problem area could concern minors. The constitutional bar might be lower to protect minors who could be enticed into lawless action (although in the “Dateline” cases, the “threat” was obviously still “imminent”.)
Another interesting case concerns the Paladin Press book “Hit Man”. A book that contains a “recipe” for assassination might be viewed as “non expressive” and less protected.
All of this concern is motivated by an AP story on June 10, 2009, “Blogger accused of inciting attack on Connecticut lawmakers.” Harold Turner, a radio talk show host, was arrested by local North Bergen, New Jersey police upon a warrant from Connecticut State Capitol Police, in an operation by local North Bergen police which shows how interstate law enforcement can work quickly after issuing inciting language against two state legislators regarding a bill on Catholic parish finances. The First Amendment Center has its own link to this story, here. The story has a June 23 amendment (link below). But Turner reportedly had used “fighting words” against a state judicial system before (in a gay marriage case), but had not been arrested. In that situation, civil libertarians have to weigh competing interests: free speech, security, and the equal rights at issue in that previous state supreme court case. The state, however, must always be particularly sensitive with regard to the safety of judges, witnesses and jurors, and this has been reported as a serious problem by the media in many other cases before (as with the 2006 Lifetime film about witness protection, “Family in Hiding”).
This case bears watching. It would suggest that bloggers might have to be very careful with some of their “hyperbole.” Personally, it doesn’t sound like his “threat” was “credible”. But I am distant from the case.
The links to these stories were supplied by the Media Bloggers Association.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Today, June 27, 2009, is the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, the milestone of the “modern” period of gay civil rights. A few weeks later in 1969, while I was in the Army and tucked away at Fort Eustis, man would walk on the Moon for the first time. I, then 25, was in better condition than at any time in my life. I remember a church retreat softball game that took place approximately on this date, where I hit a legitimate home run, over fences in a regular softball field, an unusual feat for me. The “new Senators” had a good year in 1969, finishing 86-76 (look at the Nationals now, 21-50, not even .300 ball).
Michael Hamill Remaley, an openly gay writer from New York, has an op-ed on p A15 of the Washington Post today, “Stonewall baby, all grown up”, here. Today is his 40th birthday. He was born on this day and raised in Pennsylvania, by liberal college professors, but didn’t really see things change until well into the 1990s. He was a teenager when learning from the media about the horrors of AIDS in the mid 1980s.
If I do my gumshoeing right, “Public Agenda” is one of the groups he has worked with I like the group’s page “What is Public Agenda?” and especially this statement: “Public Agenda's in-depth, unbiased opinion research bridges the gap between American leaders and what the public really thinks about issues ranging from education to foreign policy to immigration to religion and civility in American life. Instead of supporting one particular side or another in a partisan debate, our research powerfully clarifies public attitudes about complex policy issues in ways that move the nation’s public policy dialogue forward toward fair and effective solutions.” That sounds a lot like what I have been calling “do ask do tell” in my books and blogs. I’ll look into all of this more. You can see his profile at "Issue Guide Exchange" on "Everyday Democracy" here. Yup, online profiles and "reputation" have been a big topic on my own blogs.
His article mentions his current connection to the Russell Sage Foundation, which apparently focuses on issues surrounding work, especially low income and immigrant work. His article describes how one can build a career researching in policy organizations. I worked for Lewin (health care) for a while at the end of the 1980s but then went off in my own direction.
As for the columnist, I could sing happy birthday, but my voice doesn’t have good pitch (my ear does, however, enjoy nearly perfect pitch). Nevertheless, it’s time for the black balloons.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
On Thursday, June 25, 2009, Digital Media Conference held its East Coast conference at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Tysons Corner, VA. Many people traveled from other East Coast or midwest cities to attend.
The general tone of the conference is that the monetizing aspect of the Internet is increasingly challenged by recession, natural evolution of a market, and by the threat of more regulation. But there was a lot of optimism during the 8 hour event nonetheless. Here’s the basic link. This link gives the names of all the speakers and panelists and sessions.
A keynote interview of Rick Cotton, general counsel for NBC, indicated concern that providers of “professional content” must prevent piracy and theft of their materials, but that the public was free to choose between major media content and inexpensive content from those with less capital. The media industry does not object to “competition” from those with less capital.
The opening presentation of digital media trends came with a “warning” that much more government regulation was on the table in Congress. There was talk of “restrictions around the flow of data” and the idea of a “do not track” set of laws. Yet it is "tracking" that makes interest-directed advertising possible and profitable, and that helps support free and amateur content on the Web; to me, this sounds a bit alarming.
The same theme came about in the last panel discussion, “Is the Newspaper Dead”? Several problems were noted, including the poor financial health of some newspaper holding companies, and the desire to have public or non-profit funding of some components of the newspaper business. Rick Edmonds, from Poynter Media, spoke about the non-profit ownership of some Florida newspapers. I asked about the issue of competition from “free entry” bloggers, and the general impression was that blogging was welcome insofar as it adds new real content, but merely rehashing or reposting of stories already carried by news media could pose copyright problems, but the law was ambiguous. Generally, until now, media companies have been much fussier with video and music than text, except perhaps for the AP case. The panelists were under the impression that most successful blogging is expressive of "hyper-localism" but that is not always true: sometimes local issues (like taxes or zoning) in a particular community are predictive of what is likely to happen later in many other communities.
One of the panels made a comparison of Facebook and Myspace. Facebook is more concerned with external streams and tended to reflect much less of what the member says about himself than does Myspace, which it sees as closer to a publishing facility. Yet both are perceived as having a major impact on “online reputation.” It is difficult for smaller businesses to use Facebook in their promotion strategy because Facebook “changes the rules” so often. Myspace’s core competency was said to be “music.”
Panelist varied in their attitude toward the “bottom line” kind of thinking and “market fundamentalism.” The panel “investing in digital media in a down market” emphasized that investors need a return in any project. Yet one of the keynote speakers, Mark Renshaw, showed two short films about “socially conscious projects”: “Building Blocks”, about a partnership between Whirlpool and Habitat for Humanity, and then “Vote! Earth!” about a voluntary effort to close down electrical use for one hour on March 28, 2009 around the world (starting in Sydney, Australia).
Here's another account of the "gospel" by Brad McKay, PhD, of "Creative Economic Analyis" on his wordpress blog, with this link.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The film “Food Inc.” included reference to “veggie libel laws”, or food disparagement laws, which are laws are defamation laws for food. In a number of states, large food corporations have gotten laws passed creating civil or sometimes criminal liability for statements disparaging food items when not backed up by science or fact. This sounds parallel to libel about people, but it seems as though the bar for proof would be lower (falsehood gets equated to lack of proof rather than preponderance of evidence). Food companies maintain that they huge investments are extremely sensitive to “unfounded” rumors. The libel laws are related to objections that food companies often raise to product labeling.
One of the most famous cases included a suit against Oprah Winfrey and a guest Howard Lyman for a “Dangerous Food” show, originally brought by the Texas Beef Group in 1996, under Texas False Disparagement of Food Products Act. Winfrey won the cases, but the defense cost over a million dollars.
A good essay on the topic from the late 1990s is “Food disparagement laws: A threat to us all: Veggie libel laws aim to keep consumers ignorant about food production and quality issues” by A. J. Nomai, link here. Wikipedia has an entry called simply “food libel laws”.
There is much more recent activity in California, AB 698, with a typical account at NCAC here.
Update: Nov 19, 2009
Today, as I waited in a doctor's office, I saw Martha Stewart discuss "veggie libel laws" with Robert Kenner, director of "Food, Inc." (June 22, 2009 on movie blog).
Monday, June 22, 2009
On Monday, June 22, The Washington Times ran an AP story by Deborah Yao, “FTC to Patrol Bloggers: Product Reviews, payments under Fire,” with link here. I could not readily find the story at AP’s own hosted site.
The Federal Trade Commission will issue regulations later this summer that would allow it to pursue bloggers who receive under the table payments from vendors and write reviews about these products or services. It seems unclear how the regulations would be implemented and exactly what practices would be deemed illegal. Bloggers might have to disclose if they were compensated to review a product.
The article suggests that affiliate marketing could be affected, although it doesn’t make sense (to me, at least) that systems that deliver ads automatically, and not under the control of the blogger, would be affected.
For example, my blogs offer movie and book reviews; but to any regulator who makes any effort at all to peruse my review blogs, it would become apparent that I cover a wide range of media from a diverse universe or publishers and distributors and do not favor any particular company. I even try to cover a wide ranger of viewpoints on political and social issues. I have never accepted payment from a particular company to write favorably about their products or services on the web.
The article suggests that even the practice of providing direct links (as for Amazon purchases) could bring scrutiny. I only do that for reader convenience, not for compensation.
The “establishment” press has strict rules against reporters’ accepting compensation from the subjects that they write about. In a few cases, reporters have been transferred out of certain areas where there is a perceived conflict of interest. For example, in Tacoma, Washington an openly lesbian reporter was involuntarily transferred to a copy-editing position for publicly visible gay-related political activities on her own time. The state supreme court ruled for the newspaper in February 1997, on the grounds that a newspaper needs to protect its public appearance of objectivity in reporting news.
The new story about FTC involvement reminds one of the flap a few years ago about the concerns that bloggers could confound campaign finance reform, a concern that was addressed by relaxed rules in 2006.
The FTC does not appear to have a reference for this new area of "regulation" yet; the closest I could find today was the "Dot con" link here.
The Style Coalition has been promoting self-regulating by bloggers to become more professional. The New York Observer has an article by Gillian Reagan, Feb. 9, 2009, "Fashion Bloggers Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Pariah Status," link here.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
"That said": Personal sovereignty, family responsibility, generosity, and all those moral contradictions
A favorite buzzword of mine on these blogs is “individual sovereignty” or its synonym, “personal autonomy.”
One of the most important benefits of this concept is that, to my way of thinking, it makes charity, love, and constructive relationships with other people work. You cannot “be there” for a loved one unless you can “be there” for yourself. Otherwise, well, you’re open to all kinds of manipulations by others, starting with jealousy. Just watch the soaps. (Sami on “Days of our Lives” provides a good object lesson.)
I have lived my life as a singleton, productively, in a way dependent on the mechinations of the modern world. That leaves me vulnerable to external threats, to be sure.
For decades, I have witnessed the social supports – not only financially or politically but also emotionally – for traditional marriage, and particularly motherhood and fatherhood. For much of my adult life, because of “who I am” and because of the political circumstances of my “coming of age”, I perceived this as “other peoples’ lives” (and not just on the soaps). I could enjoy Richard Strauss’s tone poem “Sinfonia Domestica” (not his best work) for what it was and not really have to participate in what it meant. In “real life” it means pampering, attention to personal details that make other family members feel respected and wanted, accepting “irrational” requests that would not play well in the “creative” adult world in which I did live; it is more about social supports for their own sakes. I was the journalist, the observer, almost the alien visitor when I went back into the family spaces where I had been raised. It seemed when I went back to my own apartment or condo and my own world or work, artistic efforts, chess, and my own adult society, I had taken a tachyon-driven ramscoop to another planet in another solar system 30 light years away. My urban exile became “Arinelle”, the supposed M-star planet that could support a “simpler civilization” according to National Geographic or History Channel. Perhaps I was the “dweller on two planets” but that made life interesting, a bit like Star Trek. In time, however, it has seemed that such a strategy -- keeping a "safe" or Schwarzchild distance while observing and journaling like a mad scientist of "Donovan's Brain" -- makes me "guilty" of the worst hidden sin, drawing on the most explosive indignations -- dependency on the unseen sacrifices of others.
In the past several years, domestic and other familial demands have tugged on me in ways that I was not prepared for. I’ll keep my remarks general for privacy reasons, as there is an eldercare issue, but there were also similar issues when I was substitute teaching. I’ll give one specific example: once, I was asked if I would mind getting into a swimming pool, a 60 year old man in swimgear, to watch them. I perceive that as invasive and potentially humiliating, even though I understand that others at the school did not.
During the age of individualism, we had gotten used to a narrow construct of personal responsibility. As for family responsibility, that seemed to mean that it started when you engaged in procreation. We are learning that this is not a sustainable model. Childless people will have to take care of their elders (with help), and sometimes siblings’ children. ("It takes a village", remember, and like it or not I am a member of the "village".) We’re seeing proposals (from the Longman crowd, and in Ramo’s book, already discussed) that dealing with looking after others will be everyone’s responsibility – that we have to change how we think about this. Indeed we must. It’s not a good thing for introverts.
We do seek rationalizations for the moral principles we follow. We believe that the free market promotes justice, but not completely: some people (and whole families and whole countries, and whole races) start ahead in line (look at any jogging track). So then we think about political redistribution of wealth (the liberal to socialist model) or to a system of “merit”, incorporating the ability to take care of other people (the conservative to libertarian model). I explored the latter in the sci-fi script that I blogged about yesterday. But no intellectual system of “justice” can be perfect; if we are to be free, we will always have to live with what seem like moral contradictions. Maybe that’s why we need faith. There is a reason to question “the knowledge of good and evil”. When we talk about redistribution, we find there are issues not only around economic classes, there are sensitive issues among families and the childless that are very hard to deal with.
One development that has disturbed me is being asked to “play family” or pretend to be a “male role model” when the legal system defines me a second-class citizen (particularly when I grew up in a culture that emphasized male competitiveness and fungibility in an ultimately excluding manner, making “dangerous difference” attractive). Okay, Bill, why don’t you just “live”, you say. It was that way in the 1970s, in the first decade or so after Stonewall. But as history unfolded and particularly as the Internet “democratized” journalism (a development that poses some systemic risk that I have explored in other columns) equality became an important goal for the self-concept. There are good reasons to be concerned about it (just look at history), and yet a preoccupation with the abstract idea of equality can become personally dangerous. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, I decided to participate in its search, most publicly, with self-published books and then websites and blogs. I committed my life to that goal. I would journal the fight for equality, and that contradicts selling insurance, playing daddy, or accepting publicly (or for money) any one else’s goals but my own. Why should anyone believe me as a personal role model if federal law says I am a second class citizen. Is this “justice” carried to far? Is so, I am committed to it. It seems to me like an issue of personal integrity, or honor; without it, I become nothing.
The “general theory of relativity” problem seems to be that others want me to drop my own goals and recruit me to serve theirs. This has become a persistent pattern for the past few years. It may be a good thing I said no to them; in one case, I was supposed to become the “boss” of people selling subprime mortgages. But people wanted me to participate in the “social hierarchy” rather than tell the truth. They wanted me to “forgive” the wrongs of the past. Well, there is forgiveness. But there must be understanding. There must be a record of what really happened, because it must not happen again.
Yet, by maintaining sovereignty, ownership of my own goals, and some separation from others, with my own creative outlet (some of it public), it will be possible for me to become generous again -- without risking placing myself in the chain of involuntary dependency. I should pick up a hammer, but it should be the right hammer, and it should be deployed in the right place, not necessarily the 9th Ward in New Orleans. I should be able to mentor a child, but I need political equality first (how about making some progress toward ending "don't ask don't tell" first). I cannot be expected to enter other people's lives just on their terms and suddenly rediscovered needs, after decades of "extraterrestrial exile". Again, I see that as essential to personal integrity.
Attribution link for public domain NASA picture of Triton.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Well, tonight, I finished my own first draft of a screenplay “Prescience”, of which I had presented the concept at a screenwriters group in Minneapolis before returning to the DC area in 2003.
I won’t give away too much, but there are some concepts.
First, what really would happen on Earth if there were incontrovertible proof of an alien landing, and what if we were given 30 days before we would be wiped out by an alien EMP. What if the aliens told us that one of our supervolcanos was going to go, anyway.
Then, suppose some people were taken back to an M-star world, always facing one side of the sun, in a ring divided into time slices of history. Imagine the idea that communication is not just by Internet but by telepathy, that can travel faster than “c” and provide a real time distant account of the “creative destruction” of Earth, and its rebirth. Suppose that telepathy is accomplished by some kinds of ritualized intimate activity and rites of passage (“tribubals”). Now suppose that the aliens, while looking like us, really are creations of robotic life forms that jump from one system to another. And imagine a system of governance that, while authoritarian, is not totalitarian and is based on perfect “merit” rather than money. (OK, junk silver is treated like monopoly money). And imagine that the “meritocracy” enforces existential integrity of the ilk, “Be careful what you wish for.”
That leaves us with the characters, who become numerous but roam this bizarre world in little groups, to come together to go back to the world.
Attribution link for NASA illustration of system around 55 Cancri, public domain.
Attribution link for Fomohault Corona Disk (NASA public domain)
Look also at this link for Wikimedia Commons diagram of solar system habitable zone. SVG's can't be downloaded into blogger.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Outrageous RIAA settlement (actually, judgment) reported; ASCAP wants royalties on ringtones you buy!
Here’s a crazy result. A jury in Minneapolis has determined that a woman must pay 1.92 million for sharing 24 songs over the Kaaza P2P network. This is all the more silly because the RIAA had stopped going after individuals in December, but among the outstanding cases the price of settlement will surely go up. The AP story is by Chris Williams and was reproduced on AOL Friday, here, but seems to be no longer on AP itself.
These litigation events would start with unexpected phone calls, dunning for settlements.
Then Fred von Lohmann on EFF reports that ASCAP wants to be paid for cell phone ringtones, here. EFF points out that this is an incorrect application of the unauthorized “public performance” principle.
. The limitations on the application of the copyright law is here.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Fiat Money v. Rationing: the concept applies elsewhere besides the health care debate: especially in sci-fi
There are two ways that society distributes goods and services and recognition: through the market economy, and through political rule-making that we sometimes call “rationing”.
David Leonhardt has a big story in the New York Times Business Section today (June 17), “Limits in a System that’s Sick”, called “Health Care Rationing Rhetoric Overlooks Reality” online, here.
He goes into three areas that really amount to “rationing” indirectly, maintaining that an inefficient health care payment system is reducing the standard of living for everyone. It is. And, obviously, any single payer system would have to ration everything.
But what I think of with rationing is more like gasoline rationing, which was threatened during the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s (the odd-even system, and the threat of ration coupons as like another currentcy). Or even carbon footprint caps could be viewed that way. It becomes heavily politicized, based on the idea of what people “deserve”.
In elder health care, we are faced with tension of two trends pulling us apart. One the one hand, we can keep people alive longer. But families are smaller and often less emotionally cohesive than in the past, and the advisability of some invasive procedure later in life can depend on the availability of family support, sometimes from people who never had their own families now. It’s also true when you come to bone marrow or organ transplants at any age.
I have a science fiction script (not yet posted anywhere) about life on another planet where everything is based on “rationing,” without any formal fiat money. Yes, it’s an examination of “benevolent” totalitarianism. People are assessed by some sort of rite of passage, and their reaction to it (measured psychometrically), and put into various work categories and shipped into different “dominions” with different levels of technology accordingly. Then, in other communities, standard of living is determined in other non-monetary ways, like by how well their sports teams do (your really are a fan on this other planet). And it matters who has kids: some people have kids for others to become parents. It sounds a bit fascistic, or communistic (funny how much totalitarian systems have in common), or a bit like ancient Sparta (and, yes, earthlings are abducted and brought to the planet, which is facing a near-term cataclysm, just like earth; the earthlings are allowed to adjust in an urban synecdoche until they experience “rationing” and get sent to the “countryside”.). But I have a feeling that there are other civilizations within 100 light years of the solar system and that “rationing” and rites of passage are going to become more common than money. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe economics is “universal” (literally) and so are business cycles of boom and bust. We might find the same old stuff like our 2008 crash on the nearest civilization. Every civilization on Earth so far has known economic business depression.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I have sometimes expressed a personal distaste for how a lot of “politicking” is done in the ranks. People are encouraged to mass email form letters to politicians about some narrow interest, without any pretense of objectivity. People go door to door and recruit others for their causes, call it “proselytizing”.
I do sign petitions (including online, such as with SLDN), but I always write my own letters to politicians (usually Congressmen) and usually go into more depth and cover the different sides of an issue. This was true back in the 1980s, when the gay community was fighting off the religious right on the threat of AIDS.
Of course, in the 1990s the Internet and Web appeared, and suddenly everyone was theoretically equal. Anyone could publish his analysis of something on the Web. Once search engines became so effective (by about 1998) individual speakers, with some asymmetry, could provide a major thorn in the side of conventional lobbyists. That was an idea that appealed to me. It became a major undertone of the ACLU’s arguments in the COPA trial to which I was a party.
I’ve said that “free entry” as a technique of distribution may not be a guaranteed “fundamental right” the way uncensored speech itself is, and particularly like the freedom of assembly or petition (somewhat group rights, or the right to organize, leading to the constitutional protection of labor unions) or the freedom of the “established” press (as opposed to an individual public speaker) is. Of course, individual speech is very valuable, and I can imagine some of the (constitutional) fights that could occur in the future, with some chagrin. I learned all this from an 11th grade history teacher who gave all essay tests and took points off for not being completely objective -- but not too many other people did, it seems. Some day, a lot of business (and personal) models could be at stake.
People generally are used to acting collectively – with petitions, campaigns, and by supporting partisan political candidates. People have asked me why I don’t run for office (including someone who gave a less favorable review of my book). That’s how you do things. People who have responsibility for others (families) have to do things this way, and not live in the fantasy of abstractions, as expressed on blogs.
But, individual publication and position-taking is still a new check on the system. Let’s hope we can preserve it, forever. It may prove to be a challenge.
Monday, June 15, 2009
S.C. Republican nixes his own "online reputation" on Facebook with unfortunatel metaphor about First Lady
Well, South Carolina Republican Party official Rusty De Pass learned the hard way about “online reputation defense” when he made a racist metaphor about the First Lady on his own Facebook page. I presume that the remarks is gone now, but there are plenty of comments on Facebook here. A good story is by David Knowles on Politics Daily, here. This reminds me of the Imus fiasco.
“Those Republicans”. This reminds me of a remark by Dick Armey about Barney Frank one time. Do they ever learn? I guess De Pass would get an "improvement needed" in "Practices self-control" in grade school (see June 13 posting).
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I talked about this on May 30, but I want to reiterate how critical the opportunity of “free entry” – unsupervised self-publication on the Web – has become in the past twelve years. It gives one person the opportunity to develop arguments about a problem, publish them with his or her name, and let them gain attention, and become a thorn in the side of “special interests” or dumbed-down lobbying. It means that the speaker does not have to "join" one side to be heard, and this opportunity is very critical.
While freedom from government censorship of speech based on content (as long as otherwise “legal”) is guaranteed by the First Amendment, the method of distribution is not necessarily so guaranteed. “Free entry”, unsupervised publication, and other asymmetric technologies (P2P) are not necessarily themselves protected. Because of some unevenly (according to certain cultural norms like family) “systemic risk”, there will be some people who will want to clamp down on free entry, whose legal protection right now largely rests with limitations on downstream liability: Section 230 in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and the Safe Harbor Provision of the DMCA (as little faith as some people have in the way it is used). Interests could want to require that bloggers have insurance or become bondable. All of these developments could shut down the free speech in practice as we have become accustomed to them.
As I noted on my trademark blog recently, however, online networking and publishing has become a way by which individuals “compete” and “brand themselves,” for better or for worse. (My father once said that I had “pinned a label on myself back in my rough college days. And maybe today I sound like a Pharisee to some people.) Perhaps the “branding” or “online reputation” element has become so well entrenched that it could provide the basis for a constitutional challenge if “reactionary” elements did pass laws that clamp down on free entry. The “branding” is certainly a major consideration for businesses as they consider blogging policies: it is certainly unfair to monopolize an individual associate’s “self brand” when you can fire him or her at will.
My own “trademark” may seem to have a component of “misery loves company” to some visitors; there is some material that I view as “irony” (perhaps unaffordable) but that to some seems like “self-effacing” material that might seem aimed at communicating “pain”. No, the point is more to realize that there are subtle explanations for bad things that have happened, even in the past; and we must understand all these “subtleties” thoroughly. How far can we really go in pursuing justice and will we know it when we see it? Someone might view some of my comments (or ironies) stated “without standing” as indirect hostility or potential contempt (and some want to challenge me to fight for their causes and participate in the social hierarchy in a more conventional way); but remember, the best antidote to the views of others is freedom, self-ownership, and the ability to run one’s own life according to one’s own inner identity, when one always finds good company, and when the opinions of others become irrelevant; they cease to matter.
The past couple of decades have certainly promoted a certain paradigm in the way people relate to others: develop your own identity first, and help others out of what you individually have to give that is really your own. The online revolution is certainly party of that. There are people, however (Rick Warren comes to mind) who see this differently, who think that it is necessary to respond to people based on need, not one own personal gifts. Is this a way to characterize the culture wars?
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I recall in the Arlington County elementary and junior high schools back in the 1950s that my report cards had items called “progress of the pupil as an individual” and “progress of the pupil as a member of the group”, and one of the items of the latter was “practices self-control.” A “3” meant “improvement needed.”
Self-control, of course, is the heart of a civil society. I spot someone in a public accommodation and I notice something that I personally “disapprove” of, I may wince at the thought but, even though the observation is “true”, in a civilized society I don’t mention it. We have to get along. On the web (where a Spock-like "rationality" rules), it seems that a lot of people haven’t learned any sense of civility, given the cyberbullying, gossip sites; and sometimes even in the major media, major personalities ranging from Imus to David Letterman make gaffes, either with inappropriate words or other innuendo, that turn out to be offensive.
One problem with the Web is that comments can be put in nice language but they still can give evidence that a speaker has a certain “attitude” about some people, particularly with respect to station in life. The freedom of expression on the web – in a free entry system that we have come to depend on – lets us set limits on the connections we will seek from and accept with others, and it lets us counter the coercive collective tactics of various interests that would like us to remain dependent on them. That’s good, but there’s a rub. While social networking sites and blogs can bring us together, they can also keep us apart.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco has developed a “Teaching Copyright” curriculum for high school students. The program has a step-by-step instruction progression that covers the basic concepts (including the reasons for copyright and fair use), and then moves on to specialized areas like P2P (which we know teenagers are likely to use). The program also includes some assessment quizzes and the package appears to be relatively straightforward for public schools to use.
Typically, school systems offer technology education as electives (sometimes in career centers), but copyright education encompasses both social studies concepts (as would be taught in a government class) and technology (such as the issues surrounding digital rights management). Sometimes copyright is taught in high school journalism classes (that produce a school paper and yearbook), typically as part of the English department.
The basic URL is here.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
We all make history, or may have the opportunity to make history (hopefully for the better) in today’s world that emphasizes individualism. But the trends that I see – the talk of sustainability, generativity, and the recent media reporting on the renewed importance of familial social structures – certainly make me question how this will continue.
Perhaps at the heart of the matter is what some social conservatives like Phillip Longman call “The Social Contract.” It’s a loose term, but it refers to the obligations that others have to others in their family and community in consideration for what they have as individuals.
Since about the time of Watergate and the end of Vietnam, we’ve migrated toward an individualistic social contract. “You” are responsible for the consequences of the choices you make, and generally only that. As for the family, you are responsible for supporting, parenting and raising the kids that you sire – yes, hopefully within legally recognized and stable monogamous marriage (and that could include same-sex marriage). This idea became the heart of libertarian thought.
Today, because of demographics concerns over the long term sustainability of our way of life, we’re seeing the beginnings of a shift back toward a more “collective” social contract. It goes something like this: You have a fundamental obligation to develop the social and personal skills in caring for other people, and participate in doing so, whether or not you have children. Within that penumbra lies marriage. If you have children, you have the same obligation to raise them, but the children may turn out to become an “asset” that goes beyond the intrinsic personal value of lineage as we have come to view it in the past few decades (the personal value for many people had become less than it had been a couple generations before). That seems to be what Longman is getting at. Joshua Cooper Ramo, in his book “The Age of the Unthinkable”, mentioned it in quoting Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger (book review blog, April 12). But, you can’t “get out of things.” That is as morally offensive as has been nonsupport of children you “choose” to have. We are migrating back toward a world that may value personal choice less, and there are plenty of rationalizations around (as with the preachings of Rick Warren and his “Purpose-Driven Life” – “it isn’t about you”). We may be rolling back from the principle that adult emotional intimacy is always reliably governed by the legal concept of "consent." Ironically, the “reconciliation” brought about by the Internet is help drive this change.
But all this sounds a bit like the “social contract” that I grew up with in the 1950s. But then, the “social contract” was much more gender-specific. As a young man, you proved yourself “competitively worthy” to have a lineage. Yes – this is a loaded sentence with disturbing implications – but that’s honestly how it was then. People need to understand this – at least as part of our history, even if people want things to be different today. I had some trouble with “competitiveness”. What was supposed to happen? Well, I was still supposed to get married and have children and carry on the family if I possibly could, otherwise fade into the family background and keep a “low profile,” living with a kind of “assigned station in life,” a concept so well met and countered by modern libertarianism. In a different way, it (the old “social contract”) worked that way for women too. A good “way out” then though was to become a teacher. That’s how it was. People don’t like to talk about this today (except maybe me and John Stossel). But we need to know that’s how things were. People in earlier eras lived their lives more collectively and did not make themselves painfully conscious of modern notions of equality -- and, yes, they could be taken advantage of.
Of course, we all know things changed – for me in the late 60s and 1970s. Curiously – and ironically today given my participation in overturning “don’t ask don’t tell” – a stint in the Army liberated me, and paved the way for a most expressive life after all. But things are changing again. The political climate today, combined with my own history during coming of age, make certain kinds of forced intimacy very problematic for me today. You can draw existential meaning from it if you like – but for me right now it is simply “one of the facts.”
Things will change again. We are made by history, but for the past few decades we have had the privilege as individuals to help make it. I hope we don’t lose it.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Today's tragedy at the Holocaust Museum: Yes, some constituionally protected free speech is objectionable, and it still must be protected
I don’t like to report on this, but, at least for completeness, I need to cover the tragedy today at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.
Once again, our commitment to free speech may seem challenged, as we learned today that James W. Von Brunn, who shot and killed a security guard today at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC in what appears to be an incident of domestic terrorism, had run a website (“holy western empire”) and had a self-published a book (“Tob Shebbe Goyim Harog!”), which I could not find on Amazon. Domaintools.org gives information on his domain, which appears to be supported by a small private ISP.
I browsed through the PDF of the first six chapters (free; the rest is "for sale" and the site seeks "donations" for its "political" aims), and, while offering sentences that looked “authentic”, they seemed to amount to a typical white supremacist rant. In some ways, it reminded one of the “manifestos” by Cho or Kaczynski, but, while somewhat abstract, it seemed to have little “reasoning” to back up its “conclusions”. (Some – just some -- of Kaczynski’s “manifesto”, available on Wikipedia, makes some sense to me as a plausible argument about social or political values, although – there is an interesting Wordpress blog posting about his anosognosia. I recall the controversy about the Washington Post and New York Times "giving in" and publishing Kaczunski's "Manifesto" just before the Web era would take off.) There was plenty of name calling, usually perceived as “hate speech”, in Von Brunn’s “book,” as well as "Holocaust denial" and other outrageous claims (some repeated later Wednesday on Anderson Cooper's AC360 program; Cooper said "his writings are absolutely ridiculous)."
The major media networks report Brunn’s life-long association with neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, and previous criminal behavior. A representative comprehensive story is on MSNBC.
Many people believe that speech like these items should not be allowed on the Web. But, sadly, it is very difficult to define precisely in advance what is unacceptable; rather, like “obscenity”, you “know it when you see it.” (We’ve been through these problems with the trails of the Communications Decency Act and then COPA.) That’s why we have to resist any (political) content-based censorship of free speech at all, although European countries (particularly Germany, with its anti-neo-Nazi policies) do try.
What makes someone like Von Brunn tick? Is it a need for a perception of “superiority” to others? Is it a distaste for emotional empathy? I remember, while growing up, becoming very conscious of “pecking order” – that happens in any competitive society – and “family” cuts both ways in enabling people to “just live” in communities without the need for constant relative self-measurement. But for me "meritocracy" also became a convenient defense, because in some expected areas I did not compete very well myself.
On NBC Nightly News this evening (Wed. June 11), Brian Williams reported that hate groups are increasing in the United States, possibly because of the economy.
Interior of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Wikimedia commons attribution link. I last visited the Museum in May 2007. I didn't think that photography inside the Museum was allowed.
The latest “abuse” of social networking sites seems to be coming from a few less-than-reputable debt collectors. Liliana Segura of Alternet has a story June 10 “Is your newest Facebook friend a sleazeball debt collector?” here Collectors have posted stories about debts or dunning demands on Myspace and Facebook pages. A blog by Angela Connor, “Online Community Strategist” had taken up this problem on May 6, 2009, with entry here.
I worked for a debt collection company in the summer of 2003, and the company was ethical. They gave us training in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDPCA) and we had to pass a quiz on it with a perfect score before we went onto the floor. The Federal Trade Commission has a convenient PDF copy online here. One of the most important provisions is that debt collectors may not reveal the debt to third parties, and placing information about a debt on a social networking site page certainly would violate that provision. This problem certainly ties in with my ongoing investigation of the problems associated with “online reputation defense.”
It seems bizarre -- and very wrong -- to use one's own "online presence" on the job to besmirch the reputation of others as part of the job.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
When I was growing up in the 50s, I developed a certain impression of what morality meant for young men, an idea that seems almost forgotten today. A man had to earn his place in the larger world by proving that he could compete for the ability to support women and children. Later, I got the impression that the moral requirement was something nebulous that we might call “social complementarity.” Society understood that not everyman really could compete, but no one was supposed to take the “easy way out” by “upward affiliation,” accepting emotional attachment to those above. Instead, everyone needed to learn to incorporate some of the goals of the group as his own and learn to care about people at various stages of need. That meant that one was expected to be open to some form of intimacy even when unwelcome. In practical terms, this was expressed as considerable pressure on men (and women) to get married and have kids relatively early in adulthood, before too much attention had been placed on the self.
Today, we see morality in terms of taking responsibility for one’s own choices. This is most often expressed as the requirement to raise the children one has fathered or borne. That has always been required, but early generations did not see having children as a “choice” the way we do. Children were viewed as an economic necessity and asset in practical terms as well as a way to have “vicarious immortality” though one’s sexuality. Having children (within marriage) gave one more leverage in meeting the requirements stated above, and even gave one some prestige and control within the family and community, sometimes at the expense of the childless.
Sexuality, at the moment where one “let’s go”, creates the incentive for one to transcend one’s own intentions and become connected to others. For many or most heterosexual men, it represents the opportunity to connect to “female” values of nurturing and sometimes sacrifice for the next generation or sometimes for others more vulnerable in the current or past generations. The conservative truism for this experience is “women tame men.” So men who do not become interested in women (often, male homosexuals) have no reason to be “tamed” unless society somehow otherwise compels them to. (I think that this relates a lot to past proscriptions against homosexuality.)
The tone of the debate in the 50s concerned issues like the draft and deferments, sacrifice, the importance of both forming and keeping a family, and how all of these relate to “station in life.” Yes, it was often unfair among groups and even seemed to serve a privileged “power structure” while defining morality and justifying outcomes in terms of commitment to marriage.
The idea of fundamental rights, to choose consenting adult partners and to refuse unwelcome intimacy and obligations is a more modern one. This libertarian paradigm offers “justice” in terms of individual ability and performance and is sometimes willing to leave people “behind” within any community or family unit. It becomes obsessed with deservedness, station in life, karma, and abstract notions of “equality”, all for their own sakes, sometimes resulting in situations (and motives) that seem almost absurd (and perhaps cruel) in normal human interactions.
But changing demographics, with an aging population and much more media and Internet attention to need, is likely to mean we will migrate toward a society where people know they need to share some obligations and capabilities that they did not necessarily choose, and that their capacity to do so will affect how they are regarded. We already have some elements of this with filial responsibility laws, which states, with recession-stressed budgets, might be inclined to try to enforce. Men who do not “choose” a marital relationship with “generative” potential may find they are expected to help do more of other kinds of support of others (such as eldercare) and may find themselves expected to taken on unchosen obligations created by the needs of others. Perhaps we will reach a time when people are not “listened to” until they have done so. This sounds like a prediction of a new kind of “social contract”, predicted by Phillip Longman and others. It wounds antithetical for freedom as we have come to understand it, but it would seem to follow what happens if “generativity” and “sustainability” become more important personal virtues. The kind of freedom that we have grown used to in the past few decades is dependent on technology, which gives certain kinds of people the ability to define themselves by “work” or “expression” outside of “complementary” familial or social relationships.
For me, it sounds pretty scary.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a website that keeps track of changes in Terms of Service of many providers, including YouTube , Facebook and Ebay. It shows before and after images with color shading (blue and yellow) to show deleted and added sections.
Back in the mid 1990s (during the time of Steve Case), AOL attracted attention with its “terms of service” which it had to rewrite as “rules of the road” in easy plain English.
Facebook created a flap with a change it its TOS that (because of some wording issues) suggested to some users that it “owned” the rights to their content, and then reverted and agreed to involve users in any changes of policy.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
In August 1994, while I was vacationing in Colorado, I had a “before-after” epiphany. On a hot Saturday in Sterling, Colorado (supposedly known for rumors of cattle mutilations), I went into a family restaurant for lunch. I picked up a local newspaper and vaguely remember seeing a wire report about “don’t ask don’t tell.” By the time I had finished a BLT and coffee and gone out to my mountain-ready stick-shift rent car, I knew I would do my book. I knew that eventually my life would change, and I had, mentally, committed myself to an irrevocable course. It wouldn’t cause any changes immediately, but now there have been many events in my life as a result of that decision.
One of the sequelae from the book was my massive Internet involvement. Yes, starting around 1997 I took advantage of the “no barrier to entry” environment for self-publication and self-promotion on the Internet, and by 1998 I realized how effective search engines would become, with little effort. Some of what followed I already discussed in my post on Saturday.
There was some special about the military gay ban as a political issue, that it seemed to live at the center of so many other “moral” issues as we had perceived them all the way back for several generations. Rather than discuss it in the usual simplistic arguments of immutability, suspect classes, discrimination, and equality (although all these matter), I drew “existential” connections to a lot of other issues that bear on what we think of today as “individual sovereignty” or “public morality.” Eventually, over the years, a huge web presence built up, with some hundreds or thousands of page requests a day, and large numbers of people knew my “system of thought.” Without competing for attention in the old fashioned way, I had used the Internet to become somewhat of a “public figure.”
My “reputation” had been built mainly by self-publishing, not social networking; but, as we outlined last week (May 30), after social networking came into vogue, employers and businesses started catching on (as did law enforcement), and the media caught on to the idea that “online reputation” needed to be viewed as seamless with real-world reputation, but was so much more fragile because digital files are so portable and permanent.
In my case, my “reputation” seems to be linked to a particular worldview that some people see as having disturbing existential implications. The talk of “personal responsibility” (and the way “meritocracy” works --- the “John Stossel Problem”) can lead to leaving the impression of distance, coldness, or even sometimes contempt for some people. In some jobs, such a “reputation” could be a hindrance, such as when one has supervisory authority over others or must “get business” for the employer. That impression may be misleading, however, because businesses, despite thriving on an economy with a “competitive meritocracy” will find that customers with less “self sufficiency” tend to generate most of their demand and opportunity for profits, so the whole philosophy tends to have a self-balancing effect, which many people do not see at first.
Another potential risk comes from “gonzo journalism.” Although the speaker (like me) would honor confidentiality in the legal sense, the employer or business partner might fear that the applicant’s ultimate purpose is (at some unknowable time in the future) to write about controversial situations that will inevitably occur in almost any business.
The great psychological benefit is a freedom from “political loyalty”. If I can speak and publish for myself, I don’t have to go along with partial positions that I disagree with, nearly always the case when supporting political activities by groups or specific candidates.
The web is with us, and people compete with it, on social networking sites (both professional and truly “social”) and people like me who got in earlier place a lot of emphasis on publication for its own sake.
I talked about blogging policies the last time, and how they should work are a bit up in the air. But several more suggestions come to mind:
First, employers should consider which jobs require that the identity of the employee be known to the public. In call centers, many employees are known only by first names (that is particularly true of debt collectors, too), so that customers do not have the opportunity to check the people online. In a job where someone is an “individual contributor” (like a computer programmer), the issue may not matter nearly as much, unless the person is promoted later, or is sent to client sites where the clients might be tempted to check the person out with search engines (although that is quite a common practice in information technology contracts).
Second, employers should constantly reconsider how they should use agents and salesmen in marketing their services or products. “Knowledge management” has become much more the prerogative of the individual today, and many people do not like to be called as prospects.
But, third, and mainly, employers should level with applicants on the online reputation issue. They should tell applicants what they will check for, and give applicants the opportunity to verify that the material they find is really the applicant’s. In some cases applicants might have to remove material, even from caches and the Internet archive, before starting work.
As for me, my commitment to what I decided is irrevocable. Even “The Donald” says to be consistent with and faithful to your own chosen goals. But I’ve discovered that many people resent the idea that someone (me!) would “keep a high profile” without being willing to make the emotional commitments and take on the uncertainties and risks (associated with family life – Strauss’s “Sinfonia Domestic”) that others take, and then become involved in an intellectual way with the “justice” component of such a broad range of issues. Maybe that idea (“The Privilege of Being Listened To”) has no legal meaning now, but someday it will certainly have a practical meaning in how reputation management is handled and viewed.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
OK, we might have a new “number 2” search engine, Bing, from Microsoft. I tried it, and got more or less similar results to number 1. But I like the display of information and sublinks from the webpage on the right, and with Blogger (or presumably Wordpress) pages it will list many of the categories for direct linkage, and on some blogs it seems to list some of the individual posting titles. The search engine can provide many specific tasks, such as checking an airline flight status.
The site does a nice job of capturing videos (including some of mine from a Hamline University speech and subsequent cable program in the Twin Cities in 1998)
What I wonder is how the “reputation defense” crowd will react, and if Microsoft’s product will somehow behave differently and bring up less desirable references first in some cases.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
There is a new online newspaper, reportedly (according to David Carr in the “Media Equation” in the Business Day, url New York Times, June 2, link) formed by journalists laid off by the Newark Star Ledger, a paper that I remember in my days working for Univac on site at Public Service in downtown Newark (around 1972). It’s called The New Jersey Newsroom (link), and a cursory glance seems to suggest a conservative slant. Assemblyman Gary Chiusano has a column on “Why your property taxes are so high,” at one point writing “We hold a somewhat unique position among the other states in America in that we have developed a housing market that is run by the state government.”
I recall that back in the 1990s a township in New Jersey fined a rabbi for writing his sermons at home, apparently breaking a zoning law and taking revenue away from potential landlords and tax coffers. Yup, that sounds like another of John Stossel’s “Give me a break.” I wonder how they treat bloggers now.
Will the new online newspaper help make journalism a little healthier?
Picture: Quarry, along the Amtrak line between Newark and New York City; the “stripmine” quarry has almost completely removed a small “mountain,” a caricature of “mountaintop removal”.
Monday, June 01, 2009
Academic and corporate interests are taking more interest in public access to "knowledge" and participation in policymaking (esp.U of Maryland HCIL)
Kim Hart has a column called “The Download” in The Washington Post, and today (June 1), on p. A10 (of “Washington Business”) she has a column “The Next Frontier: Decoding the Internet’s Raw Data”, with link here.
The mentions a lot of corporate and academic entities tackling this philosophical question, including the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab (link), SAIC, Lockheed-Martin, and the Hive Group. Ben Bederson appears in the University of Maryland HCIL video here:
There is a concern that people do not relate to the meaning of data displayed graphically, despite Jake Gyllenhaal’s famous line “I like pie charts” in the movie “Rendition”.
The University of Maryland group above is headed by Ben Shneiderman, and the article says he met with the Obama administration’s CIO Vivek Kundra, and deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck, along with the Library of Congress, to ‘discuss ways of improving public participation in policymaking”. That has always been a major point with me: to democratize policy discussion and take it away from special interests and paid lobbyists. But a lot of parties may not like that – I covered the conundrum around tis Saturday.
Attribution link for University of Maryland Glenn L. Martin Institute of Technology picture, College Park, MD.