Saturday, February 28, 2009

Do "liberal" bloggers really play "Star Reporter"?


Jim Rutenberg, of the New York Times, has a series of columns about the expanding influence of “liberal groups” on K Street, in the established media, and in the blogosphere. His latest piece (“Liberal Groups Are Flexing New Muscle in Lobby Wars” just appeared online Saturday “evensong” here.

Ob Friday, Feb. 27, on p A19, he had written “Bloggers Seek Candidates to Push Democrats to Left” and compares a block of liberal bloggers to the conservatives “Club for Growth.” I'll add that I just heard Rush Limbaugh's "rant" on CNN (but I always enjoy Rush and can concur with about 95% if what he says). Rick Santelli, I guess, learned from Rush how to "say it."

It’s true that perhaps the best way for a blogger to get a large audience is to attend a political event, and get an inside scoop, pretty much as would any more established reporter. This happens more all the time (bloggers have been invited to cover hearings and trials, sometimes), and might even contribute to the pressure felt by mainstream newspapers. But, still, I rather take exception to the idea that partisanship is good for blogging. The best reporting is that which uncovers new facts, and provides links to other facts (“connecting the dots”) with original insight, but still lets the fact speak for themselves. True, it doesn’t help to provide some interpretation and remind readers of more “facts of life.”

Back in the 1950s, us kids played a board game (I believe it was from Parker Brothers) called “Star Reporter”, on a map of a fictitious civilization (with a capital Urbana) on another planet. The principles of that game apply to blogging as they do to conventional journalism. The harder-to-get-to stories earn more points.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Amazon Kindle 2 v. Authors Guild: An existential battle over "derivative works"?


A recent legal scuffle between Amazon and the Author’s Guild over the audio book playbook firmware devices called Kindle 2 may stir a new battle in copyright law over the concept of derivative work.

A long article by Julian Sanchez in Ars Technica, “Kindles and "creative machines" blur boundaries of copyright”, link here. The article (Fen. 26, 2009) refers to an original Wall Street Journal story Feb. 10 by Goeffry A. Fowler and Jeffrey A. Trachetenberg, “New Kindle Audio Feature Causes a Stir”.

The Authors Guild, known for its turf protection (it only accepts authors who can generate royalty advances as members, or at least that’s how it was the last time I looked) naturally claims that this “derivative work” creation without authorial or publisher’s permission violates copyright law, and denies authors of income (hence is not fair use). They probably won’t get far with any downstream liability claims because of Sony Betamax, and because there are lots of noninfringing uses.

The article goes into detailed theories about how much transformation is necessary to make a new work independent and derivative. I wondered: if a composer writes a “Theme and Variations” on a copyrighted song, is that a derivative work? The “Theme and Variations” is a well established musical form that usually implies a separate work (look at the piano music of Brahms, for example).

Sam Gallagher has an important story today on Market Watch about Kindle 2,
here, indicating that analysts like the prospect of the product.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

San Francisco could lose its newspaper; Minneapolis paper in Chapter 11; Rocky Mountain News goes down!


Following on to a recent blog entry about the hardships faced by traditional journalism today (battling the Internet “free content” mode), now I see that San Francisco could become the first major American city without its own daily newspaper.

Hearst has threatened to shut down the San Francisco Chronicle unless it agrees to deep cuts and turns itself around.

Stephen Foley has a story in Independent Business, today, Feb. 26, here.

The paper’s own account is here.

If the Chronicle disappeared, perhaps the Los Angeles Times would develop a San Francisco edition, although the owning Tribune company is in difficulty (below). There are other strident papers in the Bay Area, like the San Jose Mercury News.

David Phelps has a story in the Minneapolis-St. Paul’s “Star Tribune” about the newspapers own Chapter 11 filing for bankruptcy, Jan. 16, 2009, here. The title is "Star Tribune files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy: Facing sharp revenue declines, the newspaper seeks bankruptcy protection, hoping to cut costs and restructure debt." In recent years the cross town St. Paul Pioneer Press became TwinCities.com and has a delivery partnership with the Star Tribune (Jan. 20 2009 story in Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal here).

The Phildadelphia Inquirer is also in bankruptcy (story Feb. 23 in the Business Standard), as is the Tribune Company (Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun Times, and Baltimore Sun).

Later on Thursday Feb. 26, The Rocky Mountain News announced that it would publish its final edition Feb 27, link here. Denver is still left with the Denver Post.

Without healthy newspapers, who will keep the politicians and corporate bad guys accountable? Oh, I get it, "us" bloggers!

Update: Feb. 27

Miguel Helft and Brian Stelter have a tangentially relevant story about Google news ads on its own news page here in the New York Times today.

Note also: The Washington Post only prints the TV Guide to subscribers who are willing to take the trouble to request it; The Washington Times no longer prints on Saturday; and the Frederick (MD) Post will soon stop printing Mondays.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

McDonald's employee injured protecting customer from robber; liability insurance company refuses to pay


A liability insurance company for McDonalds is refusing to pay the medical bulls of Nigel Haskett, who, employed for six months at a Little Rock McDonalds, intervened when a gunman threatened a woman while entering the restaurant. The gunman, now awaiting trial and probably facing 20 years in prison, shot Haskett, resulting in $300000 in medical bills to repair an aorta, liver and pancreas. The company says “

The company said that the injury “did not arise out of, or within the course and scope of his employment.” However, according to ABC, the company and/or franchise owner is willing to pay if necessary.

Many convenience store chains have HR policies forbidding employees or clerks to intervene in anyway in robbery attempts, out of fear of liability for injuries to employees or customers. Typically employees who intervene are fired as a matter of policy.

The ABC story is by Steve Osunsami “McDonald's Worker Shot; Hailed As Hero
Former Employee in Legal Battle After Stepping in to Help Female Customer Under Attack,” link here. The story was shown in “World News Tonight”

This does seem like a test of “good Samaritan” practices (and laws). Is this just the right thing to do, or is it “women and children first”?

I had an accident in a convenience store in 1998 in Minnesota when I fell on a wet floor turning to go into the store. Their insurance company first denied the claim but then relented after I got a lawyer (who was also a Minnesota state legislator, democratic). But my employer’s health insurance company subrogated and collected most of the settlement (after the attorney, who got 1/3). I had an acetabular fracture but got back to work in three weeks for good after a new, almost untested surgery at the University of Minnesota (it took six hours, but worked perfectly, and the device was free).

ABC says "To help Nigel Haskett, contributions can be sent to the Nigel Haskett Appreciation Fund, Twin City Bank, P.O. Box 16270, Little Rock, AR 72231."

The AP reports that an good Samaritan who pushed three people out of the way of a truck and was struck himself and injured was given a ticket in Denver, link here.

Picture (unrelated) Mudd House in Charles County, MD, where John Wilkes Booth was treated (see my TV blog Feb. 21).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

ACLU celebrates 40th anniversary of Tinker school free speech case


The American Civil Liberties Union is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of theTinker v. Des Moines Independent School District on February 24, 1969 with a posting Feb. 23 “ACLU Marks Anniversary Of Landmark Student Free Speech Decision With New Video (2/23/2009): 40 Years After Tinker v. Des Moines, School Officials Still Unconstitutionally Censoring Students”. In the 1969 case, the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of students wanting to wear black armbands challenging the Vietnam war and supporting a Christmas truce then. A Findlaw copy of the Opinion is here.

The ACLU article cites several egregious examples where school districts have ignored the principles of Tinker in relation of LGBT rights. Some of the examples, however, go into other areas of general individual rights’s interest. For example, in 2003 a school in Arkansas suspended a student for telling other kids he had been required to read the Bible in class after a frivolous conversation. The ACLU article also links to a 90 second video in which a high school principal from Florida testifies in a videotaped deposition that he banned students from wearing any sort of rainbow symbols – including the logos for Apple Computers and the long-running children's television show "Reading Rainbow" – because he felt they symbolized gay rights.” The case involved a student, Heather Gillman, who had worn a rainbow symbol, and Ponce De Leon High School, which did allow other kinds of partisan symbols.

There is always a potential catch-22 in these cases. School officials do have discretion to stop speech (perhaps even Internet off-campus speech) that is eminently likely to present a danger of disruption, leading to what is known as “Tinker's "material disruption" standard, or the Tinker test.”. (This is discussed in EFF’s Bloggers’ Legal Guide, covered here Feb.13; here is the link again). However, some school districts have considered the mere fact that an area as controversial or unpopular with parents to mean that “material disruption” would result, a kind of circular reasoning that probably would not stand up in most of today’s courts.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Moral Hazard": How vulnerable are we all?


We hear a lot about “moral hazard” today, with Rick Santelli’s public rant and temper tantrum speaking for all of us.

But we’re a little bit schizophrenic about how we face many social and political issues. We often bargain in groups (after all, “collective bargaining” in the workplace, at least, is now a fundamental right, as is freedom of assembly and petition) in such as way as to obscure individual personal responsibility.

In my own thinking, one of the most disturbing elements is that others are often unaware of the “sacrifices” other people make behind the scenes, without which they could not experience their lives as they are accustomed. One of the most obvious examples, of course, is dependence on cheap overseas “slave labor.” (And think about our own American history.) Another is dependence on imported oil, or on over consuming and adding carbon to the environment in proportion to poorer people. But, far afield, there are still some irritating problems: in the workplace, the childless are often expected to “sacrifice” silently for the benefit of those with kids, and nobody sees through it. Life is a lot more complicated than a 64-square chessboard (with all of the “gambits” in the royal game), and it seems that we all benefit from hidden subsidies.

I’ve noted before, how the Far Left made so much of this as Vietnam wound down. They took aim at everything remotely “unfair”: inherited wealth, excessive salaries (Oh, those bonuses today!), and even draft deferments (only sometimes, the draft itself). A few New Age or radical books floating around in the 1970s at alternate bookstores championed Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution as the implementation of “absolute justice.” Even today, we find that many closed religious societies (ranging from the Mormons to the Amish) make a lot of sharing common responsibilities and “sustainability” at the deepest levels.

In fact, innovation, gradually raising living standards, cannot happen without some involuntary sacrifice. We all know this from computer automation and globalization, but it happened with the industrial revolution, and even in many other ways as diesels replaced steam engines and as airlines replaced passenger trains in many cases. But the recent financial shock seems to bring this home to roost: too often, we have promoted “bubbles” with the idea that for a while, people can get something for nothing and live beyond their means. At the same time, under extreme capitalism and hyperindividualism, business develops excessive numbers-driven, short-term focus leading to what Princeton professor David Callahan warned us was becoming “The Cheating Culture” with his 2004 book. How right he was. We’ve witnessed what seems like a house of cards collapse, after just two or three critical companies imploded. We didn’t see that the mathematical model would turn “retroviral” and exponential, and practically consume all the world’s capital.

I wonder about a loosely parallel situation with the Internet. We’ve given individuals the capability of “free entry” and instant fame, without grasping the compounding of reputational and privacy issues, and complications in the liability area. We’ve democratized speech, which seems like a welcome balance against lobbyists and special interests, but then we realize that people who really need to organize may have a harder time doing so.

What’s been the traditional way of managing “sacrifice” and karma at an individual level? It used to be, by regulating “sexual morality” through marriage. It didn’t work, but we could pretend that it did. Now, new age religious creeds warn us that we may have to “live again” to pay our debts. Next time, a lot of us could take our turns being born next time in dried up SubSaharan Africa, or in inundated poor costal lands. (Better rehearse it in Second Life.) Yet, “faith” was based on the idea that a community can never become perfectly just on an individual level if the community as a whole is to prosper.

It’s going to be wrenching, however, for a lot of us to come to grips with just how vulnerable we are, no matter how prudent or “responsible” some of us may believe we were.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Community, Duty v. Individualism: do they come together?


We’ve seen an evolution in the notion of personal identity and expected freedoms in the past half century or so.

It used to be that people were expected to see themselves as members of something as well as individuals. People were expected to feel attached to and proud of their biological families, their communities, and their countries, and, often, their faiths. On top of that there was the idea of “duty.” Men were expected to prove they could protect women and children (and hence, at various times, have been vulnerable to conscription), and were expected to prove that they could compete to provide for families. This notion persisted but gradually became less connected to gender. Only people who “paid their dues” had full rights in the public area, in this line of thinking, which seemed to dominate the world that I grew up in. One major component of “duty” was “generativity”: providing the next generation, and sometimes taking care of the previous one, an issue that is becoming more pressing because of demographics. Marriage (and marital intercourse) was given a lot of power, to give people status and control of others. Those who could not “compete” were supposed to remain valuable to their families but essentially stay home.

Of course, we all know how this system of social “moral values” could be abused. It could defend racism, and lead social challenge to the leadership of society and take it out of the province of ordinary people. It tended to encourage tribalism and patriarchal values.

In the late 60s, as Vietnam got discredited and the Civil Rights movement made painful progress, the notion of individualism and personal sovereignty progressed, although it had been known particularly from the writings of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. Individualism would flourish in a world run by a free market, where individuals earn standing in life based on what they can earn (in monetary terms) with their products and skills. More “traditional” or overreaching ideas of public morality became less important. Individualism could provide the most effective antidote to discrimination, which in time became “irrational” in a free market. Yet, individualism, by focusing on “market fundamentalism” (if taken to its logical conclusions) could overlook the hidden dependencies we develop on the unseen work and sometimes sacrifices of others, in and outside the family. It could fail to see the long term misuse of resources, and could, within the family, leave people stranded.

Individualism assumes that people make choices, and that the moral issues then have to do with the responsibility to follow through with choices, such as honoring contracts, and supporting children one has sired (hopefully in marriage). But older ideas of “duty” assume that many of these obligations would exist anyway.

It’s possible to “recast” individualism in terms of notions of duty that derive from outside the visible market. For example, one could suggest that one should not be heard from on the public Internet until he or she has “standing” – responsibility for others (hence, “The Privilege of Being Listened To:”). Fat chance, one may say, but over time public values could force the “market” in that direction; standing could be viewed in terms of actual financial results. Fantasy and speech both get taken as motivated by a commitment to some kind of a social result, and upward affiliation is seen as leading to a dead end otherwise.

But pressures for “sustainability” and a need for a deeper sense of personal “justice,” as exposed by the excesses that led to the financial crisis, may bring back attention to the way we think about “duty”, a nebulous “problem with no name” that has gotten shoved aside until recently. Family responsibility may be redefined again to give more formal recognition to the need to care for the elderly or children left by others. It’s hard to say how this will settle out in our newer notions of marriage and the family, but a renewed sense of individual justice may be more important than we have realized before.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My 1961 expulsion from William and Mary: reviewing the lessons; what about duty and "moral hazard" today? What about D.A.D.T.?


Today (Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009) The Washington Post ran a front page story (by Joe Stephens) about the FBI investigation of MPAA president Jack Valenti back in the early 1960s, for homosexuality and other “vices”. It goes on to mention the Walter Jenkins “scandal” in LBJ’s White House, and says that allegations of homosexuality then could end a Washington career. (Friday, the Post would say that this was a "most viewed article"!) Indeed, a later Mike Wallace interview of Dean Rusk in 1967 on CBS would confirm such folly.

This generation rightly wonders why this was such a big deal, beyond surface experience of “bigotry” and interpretations of religion. On November 28, 2006 I wrote a blog posting about the 45th “anniversary” of my own personal 9/11, my expulsion from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg as a freshman for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean of Men.

Partly because of dilemmas in my own more recent circumstances, I want to walk through that event again today in more detail. My visitors know that I am quite concerned about “justice” on an individual level, and realize that in a free democracy, justice has to be tempered by the practical experience of belonging to a “community.” Perhaps that notion of justice will bring back expectations of “generativity” from everyone. Whatever the general principles, and however these moral principles should apply to me today, the story of the WM event in 1961 does speak to the issues, even if there is a significant evolution in how we would interpret this event today.

I had, as a youngster, fit the stereotyped pattern of what “reparative therapists” like Joseph Nicolosi (who made an unfortunate appearance on “Dr. Phil” recently) call “the pre-homosexual boy”. I was gifted musically, with almost perfect pitch and great musical memory, and academically, even if slightly dyslexic and tending toward mild attention deficit. But on the playground I was definitely the last chosen. I remember the “No bunts except for Boushka” in grade school. My father made a lot of my learning to do “manly things” in the right form, even when there was no immediate practical consequence; I was taught that it is the duty of men to protect women and children. Young men were supposed to prove they were “good enough” in competition and “worthy” of the families that would guarantee them a place in society. This notion had moral implications (and could lead to certain contradictions): if I did not do my duty and left it to others, they might have to “sacrifice” in my place. This sort of thinking commanded a lot of attention then, during the days of the Berlin Crisis and the Cold War, with the Vietnam era draft to appear soon.

I had developed a sense of modesty about my body, and in seventh grade, I recall, I did not wear short-sleeve shirts at school until June. I had become the taunt of teasing and believed that I was being eliminated from the “competition” to reproduce; I somehow did not make the “biological cut.” There were a couple of very negative episodes in seventh and ninth grades whose details need not be repeated here.

High school (then starting at 10th grade) went much better, leading to my Science Honor Society membership as a senior, as well as the continuation of piano, and even some composing; I had come to develop “another way to live”, an inside-out way of looking at things that seem to avoid the “existential trap” inherent in my circumstances. Why, I wondered, wasn’t it a good thing to admire young men who were good at everything (in a way that I wasn’t)? Is it good to exalt good and promote it? Put that way, I could focus on aesthetics (even when dealing with arousal and fantasy) and avoid what the homosexuality “meant.” It did not need to be viewed as a way of reproducing potentially destructive, exclusionary ideas that we had already fought a World War over.

I want to walk though some of the details of what happened that fall of 1961, and collect a few more observations to make sense of all this. Yes, I do think it would make a movie, or a docudrama: maybe a PBS Point-of-View, or maybe something much more. Let’s see what the didactic “lessons”, stemming from some inductive reasoning, are.

Let’s walk this “inside out”. In the first place, William and Mary, at the time, admitted more men than women. Female students needed to reach a higher academic standard to get in. (Other Virginia state schools had their own quirks: at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, men had to wear coat and tie to class in order to look like “gentlemen”). This practice reflected the values of the day, when only a couple years before a woman’s magazine (Ladies Home Journal, I think) had written, “Who would you rather go to college, you or your husband?” (Betty Friedan would start to change that.) Men were supposed to be excited about creatures that would become dependent on them. But as I’ve noted, already I had disconnected from the importance of having a biological lineage. I had my school, grades, and music. My “gender deficit” was “masculinity”; what would I really need women for? To the teenage brain, it was all too logical. I had no “need” for sexual complementarity. I experienced a psychological "incentive" for upward affiliation with no reason to be willing to accept and keep intimacy that flows in a "normal" direction.

Nevertheless, the gender imbalance could be problematical for boys, who would have to compete for dates. Anything that threatened their sense of security could flare up and go out of control.

The second point is to realize that in those days, students lived in a “non monetary” economy, controlled by their parents and by the rules of the (benevolent) Administration. Instead of dollars (or gold), the underlying currency was social prestige, grades, athletic reputation, and for some students, access to women. You can really develop some pretty interesting sci-fi about the possibility of an economy based on “karma” rather than money. It’s somewhat different today as kids have their own cars and credit cards (and maybe some of that will go away during this economic crisis). College then was a dictatorship (and not of the proletariat), but nevertheless life seems eventful and vivid and real. Things matter, just as they do to adults. There’s something else about this that strikes me now, given the College’s distant connections to Colonial Williamsburg and the American Revolution (something particularly relevant to Patrick Henry’s famous speech in Richmond). Virginia, as probably did other colonies, used multiple currencies.

The third point, getting closer to what precipitated the events, is that the campus is small and the physical quarters then were cramped. It was hot that fall, well into October, with no air conditioning. (I remember the 5-cent cokes on campus well.) I shared a small, narrow room with one roommate (who wanted to be a drama major) from Roanoke: it had a bunk bed, two desks and two chests, and that was it. That would lead in more to the comparison to my situation to what happens in the US military when the subject of lifting the ban on gays came up when Bill Clinton became president in 1993.

I was somewhat of an oddball, wearing bright-colored clothes but careless about “details” (pun with the well-known mag intended), about tucking in my shirttail, for example. My roommate thought I had no “pride” in my appearance but that’s not exactly true. I simply did not conform to expectations “in his space.” He was the first to bring up the subject of homosexuality because of the Liberace-like colors of some of my shirts.

There were other small aggravations, and they piled up. We both had the same English teacher, a young man from Australia, but had different sections. The instructor tended to go out on a limb in interpreting poems like T.S. Elliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (the instructor talked about impotence, related to that “etherised on a table” line, which sort of reminds me of UFO abduction) and Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving” with all the discussions of symbiosis (which in later years I would come to associate with “polarity”). There was that first theme, which I got an A- on, that had to be a “definition” and I took up the topic of “friendship”. He read the theme and drew his own conclusions. (This was a half century before Proposition 8.) And then, I simply didn’t show up at all at the hazing sessions (called “Tribunals”), where, I heard by rumor, that “they” shaved the targeted boys’ legs.

On top of that, there was the issue of music. I had befriended another freshman from California, who claimed to have composed a large body of music, and played some of it for me in the soundproofed practice rooms. I would get into discussions of music back in the dorm room, and my roommate hated some of it when it played on the clock radio (especially the opening of Brahms’s Second Symphony).

Finally, there was the influence of movies. On Homecoming weekend, Warner Brothers’s famous film by Elia Kazan, “Splendor in the Grass”, with a title and plot derived from the Wordsworth poem, played. I saw it with the music friend, and the roommate saw it separately. In the film, the girl, after her mother’s rejection of her affair with Bud, winds up in a mental institution. Something like that would happen to me a year later (at NIH).

Then, another provocative film, “Aimez-vous Brahms” (again) would show up at the little theater on Duke of Gloucester Street, and be provocative in its treatment of sexual morality and social disapproval.

The Fourth point was that the college did not take a Thanksgiving break. I left home on September 9, and would not return until almost Christmas. We were immersed in a world controlled by others but where all the events had a lot of significance. It was on Friday after Thanksgiving that the event broke. I had been at class, including physics recitation and lab all afternoon, and returned to the dorm to find a handwritten note taped very publicly on the door, talking about room inspections and patent medicines, with directions to go see the Dean of Men immediately.

I walked to his office in Wren Hall and probably met with him around 5:30 on Friday afternoon, just after dark. It seems that he had been waiting for me all afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving (although he would have known my schedule). The discussion quickly moved to my social adjustment in the dorm, and I honestly believe that was the reason for the urgency of the meeting. If it was just about a “room inspection”, why not do it on a Monday or Tuesday during a normal week. Something must have “happened” a day or so before Thanksgiving.

Toward the end of the meeting I characterized myself with the term (or “pinned label”) “latent homosexual” – it may sound like an oxymoron, and I’m not sure it would meet the legal definition of “telling” even for the military today.

He wanted to call my parents right away, and I gave him the name of friends they were staying with in North Carolina. He tracked them down with an operator Friday night, and I can imagine what it must have been like for them to wonder all weekend about the “worst.” I’m sure what was going through the Dean’s mind was the “death penalty” scenario (as people saw things then) of an only male child leaving his faithful parents no lineage (grandchildren). I won’t get too personal here, but as a general matter, as people saw things in those days, such a “catastrophe” could challenge a marriage seriously. But I was living in my own world (designed by the College) and had no such concept or understanding of “things.” I was still a virgin.

I recall a few days before a conversation with my roommate, after dark, where he described witnessing an assault at a summer camp a year before somewhere in the mountains. He made exaggerated claims (using graphic language) of the “threat” that homosexuals pose to the reproductive capacity of “normal men.” I think he might have communicated these worries to the Dean, but possibly not told the college about witnessing the assault. It’s speculation, but if he had, maybe I wouldn’t have been called in the day after Thanksgiving.

My parents showed up Monday, had a private meeting with the Dean early Tuesday, and ten gave me the bad news (“it’s going to come as a blow to you, but we have to take you out of school”). Later, my father pointed out a stain on a bedroom sheet or mattress that he thought denied what I had said.

I can put all these “facts” together, and although there are some detractors and unfortunate circumstances, I can imagine what everyone was “thinking” (Dr. Phil style, again). They saw may behavior as a way of stepping on people’s toes, of fighting with my fingernails, as retaliating. But it’s worse. They saw my “choice” as a life strategy based on evading normal competition with other men and normal family and patriotic responsibility or “duty,” choosing instead to kibitz (silently but somewhat publicly "scope") the competitiveness of other men. In terms of polarities (a topic I’ve taken up elsewhere), I wanted to become “the power behind the throne” rather than right for power myself. I was “psychologically feminine” but nobody could grasp an idea like that then.

I’ll add mention of a brief incident a year later when I was a “patient” in the mental health ward at the National Institutes of Health. We had a ping pong tournament, and I “won” by keeping the ball on the table and allowing less intact patients to lose control with foolish aggression (wild slams) and made them mad. The psychiatrists actually made something of my behavior.

Again, at WM, was a community of young men (even compared to today’s college students) who had not yet lived and functioned in a free market economy. A work world where personal competence and responsibility mean more than collective ideas is much less threatened by psychological diversity – hence the value of libertarianism. Instead, the men’s ideas were shaped by the administration and their parents, often with religious training. Although most had experienced heterosexual urges and even “crushes”, none had any experience yet with families of their own. But they did have vague ideas that they faced monogamy and psychological “trade-in” and commitment. They probably felt that such commitment was a reasonable expectation only if everyone (including me) was going to have to play by the same rules. Despite the double standards for men and women (women in colleges often had curfews when men did not), most had some sense that a universal standard of “righteousness” was important so that everyone could behave and still save face.

One process that the closed, moneyless society of a walled-off campus had exposed was that, once one draws attention to oneself within any community (whether by bright clothes or unconventional behavior on a small campus, or with high-profile blogs on a global Internet today), others rightfully question one’s “purpose” or motives. Expression is never just a soliloquy (as in “Carousel”); there is always an audience whose behavior is to be affected; there is always a motive, always an “intent.” So the existential meaning of one’s attractions (indeed, “do tell”) really do matter to other people; in my case, they matter because they at least prove that “masculinity is an achievement”—else it wouldn’t fascinate and titillate my fantasies. That lesson would come back four and a half decades later (see the July 27, 2007 blog posting).

About eight years later, when I was in the Army and living in barracks, ironically I would find that these sorts of concerns were less threatening, even in an apparently stricter autocracy run by the military. The men (even buddy “Rado Suhl”) were a little older and more mature, and already had more sense of making their own decisions, even in the military. Society had already started to change by the late 60s. But it never really was bodily modesty that had mattered; it was more a deep sense of nuanced “justice.”

Today, I do find myself facing questions of duty and family, beyond the normal parameters of “choice” and “personal responsibility” (or even “moral hazard”) the way modern society defines it. I can understand how we can put some of the old concerns as they surfaced in the dorm (much more than in the barracks in my case) into moral questions: on a finite planet, should more resources go to those who accept uncertainty in making emotional commitments to others? These questions, while off base generally, do make sense in certain social and political contexts (last Monday’s post). I find it difficult to accept some involuntary “duty” without having had the experience of starting and raising my own family on my own terms. But that is a lesson I would learn years after William and Mary. It does seem that we are heading back toward a society where “generativity” (as part of “sustainability”) is as important a moral duty as following up on the choices one actually makes. Such a notion could have a profound effect on how we view marriage, but it is a coming thing.

Society has normally accepted a measure of “needling” of people as acceptable use of free speech. However, the end point of this pattern, when unchecked, can wind up in areas of societal and legal unacceptability, including nihilism, terror and bullying (including cyberbullying on the Internet, especially among teens). Men tend to use physical activity, and women tend to use relational activity. Therefore, some “moral philosophers” tend to view rogue public speech as inherently unproductive or destructive, and believe that it should be predicated on positive commitments to other people (often through socially approved institutions – including marriage) even when the other people admittedly express their own “flaws.”

It’s a little ironic that I finish this very “personal” post as CWTV’s “Smallville” airs an episode where Clark Kent says he wants a pseudonym (as a reporter and “blogger”) to protect everyone connected to him. What homage to “don’t ask don’t tell

Although my parents gave me a “bailout” (putting me through George Washington University while living at home), there were serious social and career consequences for me because of this incident, at least severe isolation during the most important years of “young manhood”, and other psychological consequences that I have never detailed. Freedom was taken from me, and it’s fair me to want to investigate, and to know, why? What did “they” want? (As for the roommate, why didn’t the Dean of Men just separate us?) I think I’ve sketched that out here. However, I really would like to have the College investigate what happened forty-seven years ago and give me some kind of report and apology. I’d like to see its law school do some kind of public forum on the more subtle problems with justice, duty and community (the “moral hazard” debate in the financial crisis is a good starting point). I may contact LLDEF or some similar legal agent to pursue the matter soon.

Newspapers and magazines look for ways to coax users to pay for online content; an issue for bloggers?


Today (Feb/ 19), the Washington Post, under “Media Notes” runs, in the Style Section, p C1, a mournful column by Howard Kurtz, “How Low Will Newspapers’ Ad Revenue Go?” The link is here.

Newspapers have long been contracting. At one time, Washington had an “Evening Star” which folded decades ago. But free content, newspapers say, is driving down revenue. Since the early 1980s

Is it really a matter of competition from bloggers? Well, bloggers don’t follow the same rigid journalistic standards or procedural fact-checking (and that’s getting to be a risk, maybe, as we covered in the EFF Legal Guide Saturday), but bloggers often offer a fresher and more original account of news events (like demonstrations, trials, sports events, or the internals of organizations) than can the established media. But the real problem seems to be the increasing pressure on newspapers to offer their content “free”.

Most newspapers require free registration to see content, and many charge for articles once they have been archived, and many charge only for some archives but not all. Some, like the Wall Street Journal, charge (on subscription) for some of their new articles, especially detailed financial analysis (as when accessed from Yahoo!). Academic, scientific and medical journals are still able to get users to pay hefty subscriptions for content.

Newspapers are considering ways to make it easier for users to “pay” for new content, the story says.

There is a site, Kachingle, which offers to help the reader “support the blogs you love.” The corporate blog has some links on the subject of “monetizing content”. There is an article by founder Steve Outling, Feb. 10, 2009 in “Editor and Publisher” that explains in detail how Kachingle works, (“Forget Micropayments: Here’s a Far Better Idea for Monetizing Content”, here. The system involves a machine-based medallion that recognizes you.

This proposal could be compared to Walter Isaacson “How to Save Your Newspaper” on Feb. 5, a cover story for Time Magazine (link) which starts out by saying that continuously fewer readers are paying for content. He wants an efficient system where users pay a nickel or so for every article. The bloggers are weighing in quickly on this, for example “Bristol Today on Feb. 7

Would charging micropayments for content affect the practicality of bloggers deep-linking for content, which has come to be understood (since a couple of cases around 2000) as legally valid, since a deep link is essentially like a bibliographic reference?

Some news organizations seem to be finding outside funding sources, such as ProPublica (which the Post says has connections to Democratic Party figures also connected to the financial crisis).

Spot.US (yes, named after the pooch in the famous kid’s reader) funds collection of stories from voluntary contributions (see its strile page; note how it prods the visitor to donate with "Help fund this story!). Another interesting experiment isTalking Points Memo” for “independent reporting”.

Larger, better funded public high schools offer journalism as an elective in the English department (that’s how they do their school yearbooks) and in many schools this is the one place that high school kids are taught about problems like copyright (beyond plagiarism), libel, invasion of privacy, and fair report. The transformation of journalism would affect how it should be covered in public schools. Some English teachers have tried experiments with blogging, to the dismay of administrators!

Remember, after all, Clark Kent becomes a journalist (and that is already starting to happen in Metropolis on Smallville).

Update: March 3, 2009

On p A12, Opinion, of The Wall Street Journal, there is a letter "Free Model Hurts Science Journals" by H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director and CEO, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD, link here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can a live rodeo be protected by copyright: another frivolous DMCA safe harbor case


Electronic Frontier Foundation reports (Feb. 12) that a group called SHARK, (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) has settled a potential legal battle with PRCA, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. PRCA had complained about YouTube videos showing potential abuse of animals taken by SHARK activists. PRCA claimed that this was “copyright infringement”, and had YouTube take down the videos under DMCA safe harbor. However, a rodeo itself cannot be copyrighted, although an exhibitor can prohibit photography. I wonder about the same question about a video from a drama or play. It’s always illegal to videotape movies in theaters (and people have been prosecuted for that).

The EFF story, by Michael Kwun, is titled “Animal Welfare Advocates Settle Online Video Battle With Cowboy Group; Meritless Copyright Claims Won't Interfere With YouTube Rodeo Critiques,” with link here. PRCA is also paying SHARK for improper takedown notices.

The story has a link to the settlement agreement, dated Feb. 4

There is also a link to EFF’s “No Downtime for Free Speech Campaign” to try to give speakers some legal leverage for getting material restored quickly after frivolous DMCA takedown notices.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Facebook updates TOS, spurring debate on user's rights with "free services" and social networking sites


Daniel Ionescu, of PC World, has a story today about the double-edged issue of privacy on social networking sites. Specifically, Facebook has issued an update to its “Terms of Use”. The update has to do with the license that users give Facebook (or any such site) to share information. The PCW story appears today Feb. 17 here. The story also reports an interpretation in “The Consumerist” with the old “we can do anything we want” (a great line from the horror film “Bugcursh”) “with your content, forever”, link here.

An AP account run on USA Today characterizes the change as allowing Facebook to retain data and possible user's work forever, even if accounts are canceled, here.

Young Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a posting on his own blog explaining the precedence in his thinking. The company has to get the license from the user in the first place, he says. He says that a lot of the controversy comes from the logical paradox that results from having a user's copy and a friend's copy -- two copies. That necessitates the formal license terms. "There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with," he writes.

However, previously, there have been comments by others about the use of “free services” generally, as to whether you “own” all the rights to your work. There certainly are practical problems with shut down of users because of mistakes by services (misidentification as spam or some other abuse) or technical glitches. It’s always a good idea to keep a copy of your postings on your own hard drive (and even back them up somewhere else) if they are at all valuable. Generally, “free publishing services” and social networking sites don’t try to resell user’s content items for specific purposes or restrict the ability of publishers to reuse their work else. In fact, for example, Google says about Blogger about the Blogger’s own content “You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate” and makes a clear legal distinction between the publisher’s own content and the intellectual property that constitutes the publishing service itself. I would expect that Facebook, Myspace, and LinkedIn would follow the same rules. What Facebook is talking about seems to be the need to have a legal license to accept the material in the first place. Also, notice that no publishing or social networking service can warrant that there can never be any problems beyond its control.

There have also been theoretical issues about whether speakers have to “indemnify” services for possible third party liability. Some ISP’s have such provisions in their AUP’s, as book publishers do for authors. I haven’t heard of this becoming a problem “in practice”, because it would be bad business, and because US law (with Section 230 and DMCA safe harbor) generally has many protections against downstream liability (overseas is a different matter, as are some “business model” concerns with P2P file sharing). Curiously, EFF's recently reissued Bloggers' Legal Guide (discussed here Feb. 14), as far as I could see, didn't take up this issue at all.

One problem that concerns me is that I have contemplated sharing some of my screenplays or treatments in a group on Facebook. I would be concerned about the technicality of Hollywood’s “third party rule.” An agent might worry that Facebook could claim ownership of the material even though Facebook says that it “would” not. The legal parameters of both ownership (even copyright) and privacy do need to be clearer after all.

Daniel Terdiman has a CNET article "EPIC readying federal complaint over Facebook privacy policy," referring to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, link here.

Update: Feb. 18

The New York Times is reporting that Facebook has "withdrawn" the "forever rights" provision of its Terms of Use. The story "Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use" is by Alan Cowell and the link is here. Facebook's own link for discussion of "Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" is here. It starts by saying "(1) You own your information. Facebook does not. This includes your photos and all other content; (2): Facebook doesn't claim rights to any of your photos or other content. We need a license in order to help you share information with your friends, but we don't claim to own your information" and moves on to give other points.

This posting has certainly turned into a "developing story." Stay tuned!

Update: Feb. 19, 2009

Well, we've all heard about Facebook's "about face". Here's a story by FoxNews Lisa Porteus Viana, "Sketchy Facebook Friends Could Haunt You Forever," link here. The story says that sending a picture or post to 400 "friends" on a "private list" is still "publishing." They give examples of "pinko Commies."

Update: Feb. 20, 2009

ABC News ran an op-ed by Michael S. Malone, "Facebook Scandal Version 2.0; As Its User Base Grows Bigger, Facebook Needs to Grow Up", link here. Malone talks about the monetizing issue that I discuss here on my first Feb. 19 post.

Later today, Harvard Business Online, in "Business Week", has an article by John Sviokla "What Facebook's Stumble Can Teach Your Company: Every firm will eventually have a social media strategy and all executives will face some of the same issues Facebook navigates today about who owns what online," link here. The article plays "devil's advocate" with users expect too much in a "free entry" environment, but then takes into consideration that the service would not have any value unless users own their own copyrights and can count on certain levels of integrity from the operation.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Knowledge Management Redux: maybe a slight change in course (for me, at least)


Today I took the first step, although tiny, in some possible “restructuring” of my web presence. I took some clutter off the homepage of “doaskdotell.com” and put it on a “restofindexpage” link.

Some of that material had consisted of some announcements before I had my blogs, and some of it contained the “database work.”

I’ve said before how I think my idea of “knowledge management” should work. In general, that consists of some static topical essays, tracked back (in my case) to my books; then the movie, drama and book reviews, also static, and then the “news”.

It’s the “news” items that have been nettlesome. On my own “hppub.com” site I used a news feed from a site called “rockhopper” around 2000 and 2001, and then switched to the 7AM news, which then had a free feed. I also added a technology news feed. But that second feed stopped in the spring of 2004, and 7AM stopped offering free feeds in the spring of 2005 (I don’t know what it does now). But for a while, they were very effective. I sometimes showed them off in “tube cities” (normally hardened for porn) in bars (like in the Saloon in Minneapolis) and around 2002 the news items rolling off, post 9/11, looked cool (if morbid sometimes). Yup, my site would flash a story about Al Qaeda while a few feet away a video of Justin Timberlake (still “unchanged”) singing “Bye” would cheer its way from the bar screens, and, across the pool tables, on the famous disco floor with the “Three Stages” the men would get daring once they didn’t have drinks in their hands (last call used to be early). Those were glory days.

I then played around with a “javastarter” engine hosted by another company, which seemed to get into trouble in 2006. I suppose I could do it all right with php or Visual Studio if I tried hard enough. But instead I decided to place the emphasis on blogs, and quickly found that “critical” news was breaking all the time, which I would place, on some blogs, almost daily. I could give them a spin, but still borrow from the style of “Yahoo!” and AOL with stories that grab attention – but serious matters only (Janet Jackson’s wardrobe at the Super Bowl didn’t count). The trouble is, the visitor has to look at each blog.

The right way, of course, is probably to combine them on Wordpress and really use the Category feature. But as an interim, I just have brief descriptions on the “do ask do tell” site of where the most important news items are for the past week.

The “Knowledge of Good and Evil” database has been on hold a bit (I’ve played with Visual Studio .NET and with just MySQL) but I still think it’s important. But what matters now is not just to match up “opposing viewpoints” with database codes (for correlated subqueries in relational databases) or foreign keys, but to give the viewpoints “origins” or “contexts” or even “motivations” (leading to the notorious “implicit content” problems). We need to distinguish between a conviction just based on scripture to one based on a personal value system -- say, karma, and a demand to see “absolute justice” (Mao wanted that, however), or see some kind of community where some inequality is understood as a necessary part of the “ying and yang” of the system.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

EFF offers updated "Bloggers' Legal Guide"


Electronic Frontier Foundation, on Feb. 11, announced that it had updated its Legal Guide for Bloggers. The best single reference point seems to be the FAQ page, now quite extensive, link here.

There are many more questions and more detail about a number of nettlesome questions, like copyright and fair use, DMCA takedown, reporter’s privilege, and particularly student and school-related questions, as well as workplace questions. The Guide, quite gently, does take up the question of “online reputation”. People need to understand that what they post can be archived and stay around forever; yet, simple common sense can go along way to prevent problems. The guide warns that one can get into legal trouble (be sued for defamation) for republishing rumors of others (I’m not sure if the republication is nothing more than giving a link).

The question on insurance doesn’t mention the more recent developments with the Media Bloggers Association (reported here in Sept. 2008). It does give an interesting reference to a column by California attorney Eugene Volokh (with his “Volokh Conspiracy”) in 2005 that some bloggers may already be covered by homeowners or even renters policies. The main limitation would be that the blogs would have to be totally non-commercial: not carry ads, and not be associated with any particularly company or say, something like a self-published book or film that would be viewed as commercial. Most “substantial” blogs that carry a lot of controversy probably are in some way commercial, at least indirectly. But a non-commercial blog, especially one that is “controversial” could conceivably create an issue for a casualty insurer. Possibly an insurer who found out about it, even without a claim, would want to drop coverage, even though I haven’t heard of this happening. (I have heard of a few cases where “commercial” activity claims were not honored.) Sometimes intellectual property tort coverage is offered with "umbrella" policies offered with high end auto coverage, a possibility that I looked at as far back as 2000. Even so, it sounds like better practice for casualty companies that want to offer this coverage to write them up as separate endorsements, which the customer could make an informed choice on whether to purchase the coverage separately. In short, media perils is a touchy issue, requiring its own expertise (and the world is short on that right now), and ought to be treated separately. This whole manner of insurance practice comes from earlier times, when sometimes people were sued over verbal remarks or handwritten letters, situations that have been explored in 19th Century English novels. One other important point would be tort reform – a rethinking of how intellectual property liability ought to work in a free entry environment (yes, we need section 230 and DMCA safe harbor). We need to remove the incentive for frivolous litigation and especially SLAPP, which EFF talks about, but generally (from my own looking at cases) SLAPP has happened with local, specific issues (often with respect to real estate developers and local politicians or sometimes specialized “pork” lobbying groups) and not “principled” national or global problems like “don’t ask don’t tell”. What I see in all of this is a lot of “loopholes” and potentialities for serious, explosive problems, many of which have never happened (except in the minds of novelists or screenwriters) but might soon. I hope that the new Obama administration will think about this problem carefully.

The Guide does discuss all the major torts, and warns bloggers that libel can exist, not only with “republication”, but also in cases where the defamed person is not even named (and therefore not searchable). The Guide does not specifically mention fiction, which has surfaced as a legal issue a few times now. But if a fictitious work mimics a real situation and defames someone, it could lead to trouble, at least in some states (like California). That is, the law does not necessarily offer bloggers or writers the "ironic privilege" of assuming that fiction automatically runs in "the subjunctive mood." There is also another issue bother schools, “self-defamation” of students and even teachers, where the speakers believe they are publishing “irony” but where administrators feel that others may be enticed into harmful behavior. Sometimes we can’t tolerate “irony” it seems. I talked about this on my July 27, 2007 blog entry.

The Guide also discusses the brief flareup in 2004 over Elections and campaign finance law and indicates that the Federal Election Commission has toned down some of the concerns that bloggers had expressed from 2002-2005.

There is a section on “Adult content” and some new material on the “Dost Test”. There is a question about the scary possibility that someone could put child pornography in a comment on a blog (possibly with a spam script), and it seems unsettled. But moderating comments is certainly the best policy. The section on “students rights” also mentions the “harmful to minors” concept explored in the 10 years of COPA litigation but here it mentions a curious 1968 case called Ginsberg v. New York. I’ll have to look further to see what this is about in relation to COPA.

I didn't see any discussion of "libel tourism", which is another problem that really needs the attention of Congress.

I had talked to EFF by phone in early January 2009 myself, suggesting an update, and mentioning the fiction issue and concerns over how insurance could play out. I’ll also mention that in the past, I’ve discussed EFF’s work (as with COPA) with more than one personality in “Hollywood” and with some sign of interest. I’m glad to see this extensive update.

Media Bloggers Association offers a California Defamation Law Blog (by Adrianos Fachetti Law Firm) which makes important supplementary reading, here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Potomac Tech Wire holds breakfast conference on "Internet Outlook 2009": there are many competing trends


Today, Potomac Tech Wire held a breakfast event “Internet Outlook 2009” at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia (near Washington DC). The event was moderated by Tech Wire’s Paul Sherman. The basic link for the event is here.

There were five panelists: Jonathan Aberman, founder of Amplifier Networks; Phil Bronner, a partner of Novak Biddle Venture Partners; Louis Derechin, founder of Jack Be; Hooman Radfar, co-founder of ClearSpring, Mark Walsh, political activist and CEO of GeniusRocket. The Potomac Tech Wire link above gives secondary links to each of the five sites primarily associated with each panelist.

While we ate a delicious and bad-cholesterol-laden eggs and bacon hotel breakfast, the panelists discussed a number of questions (“grade 1 to 10” type) put to them by the moderator, and after about an hour we had almost an hour for audience questions from about 150 attendees.

The questions tended to be dot-point in nature and general in subject matter, but I want to hit on a few major points that were covered, some of which could become critical for me.

First, the World of “indulgences” is still with us, even in a “depression”. The event was festive, and one general theme was that economic downturns often turn into opportunities for ventures with the right, pervasive concept and staying power. We all know who those companies are. Innovation, they say, is much stronger now than it was during the 2001, post 9/11 recession. And, they say, many concepts or buzzwords are overhyped now but will come back strong later. An example is "green" technology. (I thought about Thomas Friedman's "energy Internet".)

The entrepreneurs tended to stress the importance of scale, and of the ability to deploy some sort of product or service to all possible users. One of the panelists invented a term “Internet ecosystems” as separate paradigms or models for user Internet experience, and then suggested that it sounded more promising to come up with a new ecosystem and then scale it big, rather than try to change an existing ecosystem. For example, that could mean that new modes of social networking could be more promising as future businesses than new applications for existing big social networking sites.

One major point shared by all panelists was that the Internet tends to make everything, and particularly everyone, “transparent.” There is no “private life” when a cell phone could tell you if someone who owes you money is walking down the street. (Think what this means for members of the Armed Forces and the desired future elimination of "don't ask don't tell".) People are changing how they think about their lives, and their notions of not only privacy but also personal sovereignty (privacy and reputation have received a lot of attention from George Washington University law professor Daniel Solove). People, even sometimes now some seniors, are thinking of their lives as being conducted in more than one space at the same time (an idea that in the past was the province of science fiction, especially Clive Barker’s).

Along the lines of "transparency," the panelists indicated that social networking sites, while somewhat overhyped now, would become strategically one of the most important business models for the Internet, and that new forms of social networking infrastructures were already being tried, both in business and sometimes in more specialized communities. However, these networks would need to remain innovative and achieve some real global scale quickly. Their underlying social validity (maybe even expectations of "loyalty" from subscribers) would have to be carefully thought through.

I asked a “two-part exam question”: to comment on the “reputation defense” problem and on all the complicated liability problems (trademark, copyright, privacy invasion) that had been surfacing, especially overseas. On “reputation” one panelist thought that this was a good place for innovation: to go beyond having companies help manage online reputation to developing automated tools for removing derogatory items from the Web. One reason for doing it this way is that reputation is very much “in the eye of the beholder” and very much a widely varying cultural concept (beyond the obvious concerns about showing underage drinking and “bong hits”).

The liability question led to a general expansion of concern, as some in the room started to realize, probably, that I could be referring to the recent “prosecutions” in Italy (and the Netherlands, over a film about Islam). Panelists thought that the liability concerns (say, calls to weaken Section 230) could slow the growth of the Web in a time that we need growth and could become troubling. Advertisers, it was noted, are tending to become more skeptical of amateur content compared to times past, partly for these reasons and partly because the tools to measure effectiveness (cpc) and to tailor them to individual viewers have become so pointed and sophisticated.

One person in the audience practiced some stream-of-consciousness and, in response to my question about liability, mentioned a Wall Street Journal op-ed today by Judy Shelton: “Capitalism needs a sound-money foundation” (p A13 Feb. 12) (link here), suggesting the abolition of “legal tender” laws and allowing people to go back to other forms of exchange. (She argues for gold, but in the colonies people had several forms of currency, including tobacco). Whoa there (especially you Democrats and perhaps Independents), are Obama’s economic stimulus and Geithner’s sticky but vague bailouts still on the brain? Why is this interesting at an Internet conference? Partly because there was some discussion of “virtual lives” (or Second Life – some of this even especially designed for seniors) as large-scale products, where people can vary their medium of exchange, and not go with fiat. But there seems to be an even more daring possibility: conceivably, in the future, people wouldn’t need money at all, but rather “karma”. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, or the way the nearest civilization, maybe thirty light years away, would work. But it also addresses some of the other intangibles that people expect from activity on the Internet, which include “recognition” or “fame” (which can take pretty juvenile forms with kids on current social networking sites) but also, just command of knowledge for its own sake (all of which would carry a cost of “commitment”).

This brings to mind the last big opportunity on my mind, at least, knowledge management. The conference didn’t address Wikipedia specifically, although it should have. One could accuse someone like me of selling (or, worse giving away) “knowledge spam” (more a social issue than an Internet "abuse" problem) but the real point is not just listing the knowledge itself, but “connecting the dots.” Yes, Jimmy Wales has the right start on this, but I think that professional journalism can do a much better job of connecting our knowledge points at deeper, more psychological and more subtle levels, in a way that the average person will understand much better what is happening (at least debacles like the current economic crisis needn’t happen). Most of the promising Internet business opportunities, they say, may, in the current economic and legal climate go back to helping businesses rather than directly pampering individual consumers. Could new database-driven applications be developed to help the news business connect up everything (better than NSA does)? I think so. Even here, the panelists offered a clouded future for traditional journalism, saying that for-print newspapers would have to turn into not-for-profit foundations, and that the real news may come from individuals online after all, in every media conceivable. For business, this sounds like a perfect storm.

Update: Feb 15

Visitors might enjoy (with some "irony") the Newsweek "Techtonic Shifts" article by Don Lyons, "Time to Hang Up the Pajamas: I learned the hard way: while blogs can do many wonderful things, making huge amounts of money isn't one of them", Feb 7, 2009, link here. True, but there can be other motives besides just money (like throwing sand in the eyes of lobbyists and special interests).

There is a related short blog entry on "Amplifier Networks": "Is Blogging a Business or a Hobby," by Jonathan, Feb 9, link here (may require registration). Also, please see the comment.

Update: Feb. 17, 2009

USA Today, on Tuesday Feb. 17, opens its Tech section with a long article by Jon swartz, "New tech start-ups can rise from the economy's ashes," link here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fair use battle on Obama photo; Downstream liability for privacy infringement in video postings in Europe


There is another fair use battle brewing over the copyright “fair use” doctrine, this time regarding an image of Barack Obama, taken by photographer Mannie Garcia while employed on contract by the AP at the National Press Club in downtown Washington.

Street artist Shepard Fairey used the photo to design a poster that eventually would get sold on Ebay.

An AP story by Helen Italie appeared Feb. 4 on Yahoo! News here.

The AP has another story by Larry Neumeister about the counterclaim by Fairey, here.

In Europe, ISP’s and Internet Service Providers might be responsible for “privacy” invasion created by users.

On Feb. 2, the New York Times reported on a case in Italy regarding criminal charges, here. Executives have been charged for not screening a privacy-invading posting on YouTube of teasing a boy with Down Syndrome. The case raises a question about whether Internet companies could be required to prescreen user content. There is already a civil case in the United States brought by Viacom regarding a similar question. In Europe privacy law regarding images is stronger, but this is the first time criminal charges have been brought. In the US Section 230 may provide a lot of protection.

A site called the The Privacy Advisor discusses the progress of this case, and another case in Spain where the actual content creator is prosecuted, here.

Update: March 30, 2009

The Associated Press has created a web page "Protecting AP's Intellectual Property," with particular emphasis on the Obama photo case (with PDF for the complaint and countersuit) here. The AP maintains that licensing and royalty income is essential for the activities of journalists as part of the democratic process.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Twin Cities conservative group founder writes piece about "real sacrifice"


When I lived in Minneapolis (from 1997-2003), I sometimes attended events at the Center of the American Experiment: Defending the American Dream.” John Stossel was the guest at one luncheon, and I believe they helped set up a Cato Institute event.

Recently, one of the founders, Mitch Pearlstein, ran an op-ed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Feb. 7, 2009 "Let's give it up for hard times: Most of us have no idea what real sacrifice is. Here's our opportunity to learn.” Here’s the original link for the piece.

Pearlstein goes into some discussions about the Minnesota and federal budgets as well as a recent controversy over steep tuition increases at public colleges in New York. He comes to the conclusion that most of the sacrifice during hard times comes from the poor, not from the middle or upper classes, even though there is some belt-tightening.

He makes an interesting suggestion: if there is a tax cut, compute your own, or at least your own share of the deficit and all of these bailouts that you don’t have to pay now, and contribute it to charitable causes yourself. How many middle class or upper middle class people really could afford to? I think that the bailouts so far add up to $30000 a person, and they’re only beginning. For example, some conservatives say that entitlements will add up to $400000 per worker in a few years, suggesting we will have to learn to take care of our own flesh and blood (regardless of "chosen behavior") again.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

"I can do whatever I want": how about "I can say whatever I want" (online, and distribute it)?


“I can do whatever I want.” Well, no I can’t. Actually, that’s a key line toward the end of a notorious gay horror short film “Bugcrush” (Carter Smith), but normally most of us say that to ourselves when we feel in control of ourselves and our lives. We have a right to free choice. No, we don’t have the right to control others against their will, as in the film.

We’re used to the idea that what limits what we do is the consequences of choices that we have already made. That’s the classically liberal (to libertarian) notion of “personal responsibility.” It even shows up in Southpark.

But then, as I’ve developed in previous post, we find we already owe “karma” to other people, beyond our capacity to choose. In practice, we sometimes have to accept their need for attention, some intimacy, even control. We can’t always express out own values or wishes.

During the current economic crunch and restructuring of our lives and values toward sustainability, we’re likely to hear a lot of calls for more socialization, community, more acceptance of the idea of integrating the needs of others into our own goals. That can even be a critical boon to economic recovery in some areas, to build on the extended family. This development is most unwelcome for introverts like me.

We could be headed back toward a culture where everyone has some responsibility generativity, even people who did not have their own children. We may migrate toward the notion that, before we reward anyone for his own accomplishments (at least once well into adulthood), we want to see accountability toward specific others in some way that is emotionally meaningful. Demographics may help drive this trend.

In that kind of culture, the moral values associated with marriage come to be perceived differently. Rather than behavior expected when one has “chosen” to have children, it is seen as an institution that helps one carry out an obligation one has anyway. The rewards of marriage become as, or more important, than the responsibilities (which often cause marriages to fail). Marriage becomes everybody’s business. Everyone shares some of this because the world has some uncertainty requiring some sense of living in a community and not just immediate “personal responsibility.” That “uncertainty” (an idea embedded in physics – “the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”) requires toleration of less than optimal circumstances. For example, gay marriage (and parenting) need no longer be seen as a threat to the “integrity” of heterosexual marriage because it would still be relatively rare (in percentages) and simply a random statistic variation in nature. (The Universe is perfect for life not only in having the right physical constants but also in allowing randomness and uncertainty, necessary for evolution and growth.)

There is this dark side: The “rewards” of marriage come to include some power over the socialization and resources of the unmarried (even as adults). But families, in socializing their children, are preparing them for the possibility that external circumstances beyond their control can change, and force them to accept interdependence on others, even family role fulfillment and intimacy, on terms not of their choosing. It's all so anti-libertarian.

Now Bill, you say, please stop talking. You really mean to advocate such psychological communism as a the next “new morality.” No, I don’t, but I fear it may happen. The natural solutions to our current dilemmas point to it. It used to be this way, until perhaps the 1960s, and the wild pendulum may take us back.

Remember, technology helped enable the rise of individualism (along with some "schizoid" fantasy life fed by the media), and promote the idea that one develops the expressive self before expecting to get serious about seeking and accepting relationships. But that makes us “dependent” on technology and vulnerable. Sustainability concerns (or sudden catastrophes or “mega-disasters”) may force us to localize our work and expression again and become more receptive to people than many of us have been in the past few decades,

There is a very serious corollary to all this in the free speech area. Not so much speech itself, that is, but publication and especially distribution. Until we had the Internet, Web, and especially Web 2.0 with social networking and public blogging, one had to compete through establishment “bureaucratic” games for fame and recognition. Now, it is possible for someone to instantiate himself (or herself) if the content (even without the presence of the person) is unique enough, on its own or in some combination with other things. But what we’re learning is that this comes with a lot of risk that is impossible to estimate. We hear a lot about the risk in the “reputation defense” area. But one thing that makes the “reputation” problem so intractable right now is that personal reputation (suddenly propagated by self-instantiation on the Net) is also tied to the reputations of others in one’s family or business circumstances in ways not always apparent to speakers. That’s because right now we have a wide range of “sociability” in our civilization. Speakers on issues or controversies (beyond speech directly related to social or business networking for its own sake) often do not feel any direct or immediate connection to either their audience or subjects (including “indirect”) of their writings.

All of this can make the future of the self-promotion on the Net that we have gotten so used to problematic. The “free entry” development seems almost like a lucky accident, but some of it relates to some specific laws (Section 230, DMCA safe harbor) that can shield secondary liability. But some people want to weaken these protections, require insurance or bonding of speakers (because of uncertain downstream effects), and advertisers are getting skittish about “amateurism,” partly because of the perceived track record associated with foolish behavior on social networking and gossip sites. We could be headed toward a world where new speech has to be more supervised and where speakers are expected to have legitimate stakes or “standing”, expressed in terms of specific accountabilities to others. This is a possible development that we could not have imagined as recently as ten years ago.

I’ve experienced some pressures in this direction, and in a few cases I’ve found that others want me to accept some sort of submission to their authority and goals, and in many other cases others want be to buy into some scheme where I will learn to “manipulate” others myself for goals chosen by others in authority. It seems that the need for social authority and structure is a given, and it presumes that the community has to survive through somewhat unpredictable perils and even enemies. Right involves more than just assembling truth from different sources, and it can involve selectively manipulating the talents of some and excluding others. It’s all quite disturbing, to me at least.

Friday, February 06, 2009

YouTube's copyright Content ID tool is questioned (EFF)


Electronic Frontier Foundation today has posted YouTube’s Copyright Content ID service. EFF believes that copyright “owners” are making frivolous claims against video content that clearly would be found to be “fair use” if it went to trial, because most amateur users don’t have the resources to fight. It gave an example of a child playing the piano and singing “Winter Wonderland,” the text of which is probably copyrighted music (apparently Warner Brothers somehow is the legal owner) but the performance probably falls within fair use doctrine. I have a feeling that there is a lot of “amateur” music performance on the web of other people’s music, often believed to have passed into the public domain.

The news story is by Samantha Rose Hunt and appears on Tech Daily, “YouTube’s copyright system goes wrong, EFF intends to sue,” link here.

C21 “Media Net” has a postingYouTube in My VideoRights Pactin which it maintains that the service is intended to improve YouTube’s reputation with advertisers, particularly in a challenging economy, where advertisers may not look so well on amateur content that might sometimes be pirated. But the boundaries seem to be nebulous.

So far, I have posted all of my own video content on my own site, doaskdotell.com, in the photo directory. I am contemplating some YouTube work on issues and situations that concern me – but carefully.

Update: March 3, 2009

Check out the detailed update on EFF by Corynne McSherry, "Hey, Warner, Leave Those Kids Alone!" link here. That was a featured Electronic Frontier Foundation story today. The basic problem is a "chilling effect" that would prevent YouTube posters from appealing to protect their Fair Use rights (the Content-ID step occurs before the DMCA safe harbor takedown notice anyway).

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Juicy Campus shuts down: is it because of the economy?


Juicy Campus announced that it is shutting down today. Despite the exponential growth in use, it could not attract of keep the investment or ad revenue it needed, according to Matt Ivester. He writes, alarmingly, “online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved” on his blogspot entry "A Juicy Shutdown" here. There are shutdown FAQ's in the blog's archive.

The Juicy Campus website was still functioning today, Thursday Feb 5, around noontime, and it forces the user to go through a terms and conditions link.

The website attracted controversy recently over the issue of “reputation defense.” Yet, the founder insists that it is the advertising environment that led to an economic downfall. If really so, that doesn’t bode well for the continued development of “free content” by ordinary users and citizens on the Web, because it requires advertising, at least indirectly, even to support the sites that don’t have ads.

A Georgetown University blog entry Feb 4 gives the story and some reactions. Ivester had spoken there in October 2008.

In fact, on Yahoo! finance today, there is a Tech-Ticker Valley Buzz column titled “The Bad News at AOL, IAC, Bloomberg, Panasonic and EA. The Good News? Cheetos Is Still Paying for Online Ads.” The article says that advertisers are still interested in “original professional content online” and mentions Ashton Kutcher (are we all being punked?) and Cheetohs. It also indicates that advertisers are becoming disenchanted with amateur content, and that does not bode well. But maybe some of this cycles back to the big bad “reputation” problem, indirectly. Here is the link for that story. There is also an important "Digital Business Live: Silicon Valley Insider" posting by Henry Blodget here, with some specific numbers, and an estimate of 20% less spending in online spending on 2009, going along with general recession.

I have earlier postings on Juicy Campus March 20 and October 30, 2008.

I’m not personally seeing the “symptoms” of these downturns that media reports indicate in my own experience, but I am very concerned that the user-generated content experience be as healthful (including financially) as possible. I hope investors recognize the difference between (personal) “gossip” and real reporting and commentary, even if by “amateurs”.

There is a college talk site called Posh Society that is said to be much more sedate about what is acceptable.

On the more "positive" side, bloggers can consider offering their work for subscription on Amazon's Kindle. For example, here is Richard Sincere's Kindle link.