Wednesday, April 29, 2009

H1N1: "social distancing", individualism, markets, and the prospect of authoritarian family and social structures


As a general matter, a free market economy tends to localize personal responsibility, and tie the consequences for a person to a choices and how well he or she executes chosen actions and expressions. Free markets, particularly in a globalized and efficient world, would tend to de-emphasize the effect of social position and allow personal relationships to be explored for their own sakes, rather than for their meaning for others in a social network or family.

But even today, the stability and safety of a culture can be threatened by the outside world. Sometimes it seems that we have forgotten our nervousness after 9/11. But now, in a somewhat different way, the possibility of a major “H1N1 flu” (or swine flu) worldwide pandemic raises these questions again. These blogs have covered a variety of other threats that can come about because of natural causes of because our culture has made enemies.

H1N1 can raise profound ethical questions about individual behavior, particularly if the virus affects different people in unpredictable and highly variable ways. The issues are totally different from those that we debated within the male gay community in the 1980s over HIV, and with a casually transmissible disease like H1N1, “personal responsibility” seems much less clear cut. One is asked to be his brother’s keeper, even if one reasonably believes he or she is unlikely to be seriously sickened by ordinary social crowding. That’s the consequence of rapid talk that governments should rapidly impose “social distancing” as pre-emptive containment, which would be tremendously and disproportionately costly to some kinds of people.

In such settings, social structures become more important. These include both the blood family and the state. Particular individuals are, by measures taken outside the normal economy, expected to make inequitable sacrifices for others. The legitimacy of the authority of those in charge becomes an important issue, and can lead to a preoccupation with both personal “deservedness” and loyalty to the community and family instead of the normal self. And we start to see a more structured society that social conservatives often favor (as in the discussion of shifting morality, April 25). There may be stability, and there may be complex rationalizations that the individuals who are asked to sacrifice are more marginal and contribute less. There may be a sense of “morality” but there is the obvious risk of abuse, gross inequalities, and loss of personal expressive freedom to serve the interests of those who can preserve society.

Western society is committed to saving and protecting every possible human life, including the most vulnerable. The fact is, however, that this desire has to be balanced against liberty interests. You can’t have satisfying freedom as an individualist understands it when economic measures fail and actions ordered by others require random and arbitrary sacrifices, supposedly to protect every life at any cost. Freedom requires accepting living with some level of risk and uncertainty. Generally, most people survive most pandemics (HIV is a strange exception), and this was true even of the 1918 Spanish flu. Most of the time, people moving freely come into contact and build up gradual resistance to new agents. But there is uncertainty and there are exceptions. Technology (and changing demographics) has made it possible for novel diseases to spread quickly and unpredictably. And technology can save us with a vaccine, but we need to get at it quickly, and make it at home.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wiki group challenges Apple on claims of DMCA "circumvention"


The question of whether anti-circumvention provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can apply to technical discussions on devices comes up as Apple demanded removal of content discussing “some Apple iPods and iPhones interoperate with software other than Apple's own iTunes” from BluWiki, operated by OdioWorks.

The EFF title story is “Wiki Operator Sues Apple Over Bogus Legal Threats: Apple’s Baseless Copyright Claims Squelch Free Speech” link here.

The BluWiki site is here and says it comprises “Websites for the people (people like you!)”. The site appears to be totally non-commercial and to refuse advertising, instead relying on donations. OdioWorks offers website tools for web developers.

EFF maintains that Apple seems to be trying to squash discussions about its products with censorship, when the discussions do not violate copyright or patent laws or disclose trade secrets, and do not themselves circumvent the DMCA or lead to circumvention.

The industry news gadget on the left side of this blog offers stories about Apple, and it may offer this link, from time to time, from PCWorld. The story is titled "Apple Is Sued After Pressuring Open-source ITunes Project," and it is by Robert McMillan, IDG News Service.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Media Bloggers and Citizens Media Law Project report on important blog "defamation" cases; a landlord is involved


Media Bloggers Association maintains an important legal blog with many important stories, similar in nature and spirit to those that appear at Electronic Frontier Foundation. On April 20, 2009 MBA posted a story about a bizarre and disturbing defamation case from Florida. A party named Tabatha Marshall (in Washington state) runs a website (named after her) that discusses, among other things, (alleged) job scams. Apparently she posted information she got from some company(s) involved in phishing or scams, and received a cease-and-desist letter from one or more of the companies ordering the removal of the information. The company, according to the MBA’s posting reporting Marshall’s account, also contacted Marshall’s landlord, claiming that she was running a business (she says she wasn’t). I’ll come back to that.

Marshall was sued for “defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and injurious falsehood (trade libel)”. The case is called “Internet Solutions v. Marshall” and the Citizen’s Media Law Project has a link with the details here. The Internet Solutions complaint is interesting (PDF here -- particularly point 24 on p 4; I didn’t see any advertising on her site today, tying in with the non-commercial nature of her site). The case was dismissed by the circuit court, but plaintiffs appealed. The dismissal order mentions “Florida’s Long Arm Statute.” The primary legal question in the brief is whether a state court in Florida could have jurisdiction out-of-state. There have been other cases like this coming from other states (especially California), that I’ve discussed in my posts before (such as with the “fiction defamation” problem). The case is before the Florida Supreme Court (remember it from the year 2000, Bush v. Gore?) The legal question (“Pendent jurisdiction”) is worth repeating here. "Does posting allegedly defamatory stories and comments about a company with its principal place of business in Florida on a non-commercial website owned and operated by a nonresident with no other connections to Florida constitute a commission of a tortious act within Florida for purposes of Fla. Stat. section 48.193(1)(b)?" MBA submitted an amicus brief to the contrary, as explained in the posting. One argument is that extension would contradiction the protections in Section 230 of the 1996 (federal) Telecommunications Act for downstream liability. (The sentence reminds me of the famous “tortious interference” line in the 1999 movie “The Insider”.)

States do have “long arm statutes” that can be dangerous to out-of-state publishers. The arguments as to their applicability seem complicated here. But the other aspect of the case that caught my eye is that the plaintiffs (allegedly, according to CMLP’s reporting of the defendant) tried to use the defendant’s landlord to pressure her to stop. This is the first case I have heard of where this has happened. Localities vary as to zoning laws, and in a few places (such as New Jersey) local governments have, in the past, tried to stop writers from working at home (this was the case in the mid 1990s, as the Web was starting to take off). On January 27, 2009 I reported a New York Times story about a tenant in a New York City apartment who was denied lease renewal because he had started an online group critical of the landlord, although the group was private and supposedly not searchable.

The site reports another action against Oprah Winfrey in Philadelphia (along with the Huffington Post and one specific blogger) regarding her girls’ school. Remember the “SLAPP” lawsuit against her in the 1990s by the Texas Cattlemen. Remember her “Free speech rocks” on her show? The post is here. The action this time was settled by retractions.

CMLP has another big defamation case in Texas, where Oryx Capital Markets won a $12.5 million verdict against “Predatorix.com” for defamation, with the complicated case here. The poster, Sam Bayard, has an interesting blog at CMLP, here that includes the Texas case details. He also discusses a case with a blogger and the New Jersey shield law (there is pressure for a federal shield law).

CMLP also runs a “Legal Threats Database” which bloggers ought to know about. The link is here. It reminds me of “Chilling Effects.” Right now, I'm afraid to look! EFF, bring it on again!

I don’t personally “originate” complaints against companies online (perhaps partly because of cases like these). On perhaps three occasions in ten years, I have been asked to remove very minor items online from specific individuals, but in each case the situations were novel enough to warrant my doing so.

Is there other evidence that landlords or condo or homeowners associations are becoming concerned about profiles and blogs? I welcome comments from those who know of problems or other specific incidents.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

RealDVD case tests ability of Hollywood to innovate


U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel will hear a case in San Francisco to determine whether a previous ruling preventing RealNetworks from selling RealDVD stands until trial. She is the same judge who ordered in 2000 that the original Napster must police itself for copyright infringement, a development that led to its shutdown and reemergence as a paid service.

The Information Week story (April 24) is by Anton Gonsalves, with the title “Napster Judge Hears Hollywood, RealNetworks Arguments: The movie studios sued RealNetworks in 2008, accusing the company of violating their copyrights,” link here.

The Examiner has been carrying an AP story here.

Real Networks's latest statement to its customers occurred in Nov 2008 and is here (PDF). The company has a RealDVD domain with a litigation update page here.

What is at issue is that at this time the software would allow people to copy a rented DVD onto a PC. Conceivably, someone with a movie rental account could build up a library of illegal movies, limited only by hard drive space. Studios call the practice “rent, rip and return.” On the other hand, encryption does effectively prevent removal of infringing movie copies from one computer to another.

In 1984, the Supreme Court had ruled that manufacturers of video taping equipment could not be held responsible for copyright infringement because, generally speaking, the devices had legitimate non-infringing uses, such as copying a recording copy you already own to prevent wear. (The case was Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, wiki article here.) I used to copy phonograph records that I owned to cassettes to preserve them from wear. Likewise, the current technology can copy a DVD you already own, but it is less likely to happen since DVD’s don’t wear out. In MGM v Grokster, the Supreme Court had ruled that a manufacturer or vendor could be held responsible for downstream, infringement if its business model was predicated in infringement.

As an artist myself, I understand that Hollywwood needs a sound business model (even to make my movie some day). But what’s needed is not Hollywood judicial protectionism, but innovation. Is it that hard to design a rental DVD so that RealDVD cannot copy it? Rental DVD’s are already manufactured separately and are generally not available for sale now. Why is this so hard? Does anyone know?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Do liberals and conservatives inhabit different moral universes?


Today (Saturday April 25) AlterNet offered a long article by Tom Jacobs of Miller-McCune, “Conservatives Live in a Different Moral Universe – and Here’s Why It Matters”, link here. I couldn’t find it directly at Miller-McCune yet.

Jonathan Haidt, of the University of Virginia, had offered five categories that define moral character. They tend to form a diagram that reminds one of the “Nolan Chart” or “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” – this would become a “world’s nearly smallest morality quiz”.

The categories are worth repeating here

(1) Harm/care

(2) Fairness/reciprocity

(3) In-group loyalty

(4) Authority/respect

(5) Purity/sanctity

To me, this formulation seems to mix up “liberalism” with “libertarianism”, which we know from the Nolan Chart are very different views.

Libertarianism views the world in terms of individuals, and liberalism does so when “convenient”. It seems to me that, curiously, in a world of moderate socialism, “fairness” is often debated more among groups than among individuals.

But it is true, that to many people, the “harm” principle is the most important foundation: do no harm to others, and do not violate their scope of consent, and honor voluntary promises or contracts made. That generally matches how we understand libertarianism. Another principle that goes with it is “personal responsibility.” We have often called the collection of these concepts “individual sovereignty” or “personal autonomy”.

The essay discusses loyalty and authority, and explores the idea that loyalty to blood family can be more of a virtue than holding individuals in a family responsible for their own acts.

Social conservatives tend to believe that “equality” or “fairness” as liberals understand these notions are not possible without respect for the authority of the family and of certain social structures. A social conservative would say, if it were not for my parents, I could have lived in the streets myself, so I should be loyal to them, at least if they were faithful to each other and to me, and provide for them. They also believe that stability and fairness are not possible unless individuals are ready to make some sacrifices in some situations determined in part by the authority structure. Religious conservatives act as if they believe that they could not maintain the marital intimacy necessary to provide for other generations unless their relationships are socially revered. We see this idea coming back today with issues involving eldercare and with the demands on other family members sometimes necessary to give medical care to ill family members (consider what organ transplantations require, and they are more common today than they were twenty years ago).

“Loyalty to blood” could be viewed as a fairness idea in some perspectives. If a world has limited resources, the resources should go first to people who will take the risk of (and have the capability of) reproducing themselves within approved family structures. ). The idea of abstract “respect” for position in family is supposed to be transitive: once someone goes off on his own and decides that it is meaningless (wants his own life on his own terms only) the chain tends to fracture. Liberals do note that some people (such as gays and lesbians) do not want to be forced to “compete” in life according to the somewhat arbitrary social structures set up for them by the (marital) sexual relations of others.

Purity and sanctity, while seemingly religious in origin, would seem necessary to support social structures.

Libertarians believe that people should be responsible for the children they “choose” to have (yes, marriage is a good thing, but it’s still a private contract). Both liberals and conservatives (and outright authoritarians) believe that caretaking is a community experience that everyone must share because everyone has received it; hence a religious and family power structure can get to make the “rules of engagement.”

Male homosexuality represents a certain paradox. Why we correctly think of the movement for equal rights for gays in terms of concepts like harmlessness, fairness and reciprocity, the underlying interest reflects and expresses a personal belief that, deep within, “authority” matters and that someone should “deserve” his right to wield it, perhaps in terms of external trappings of manhood. The freedom allows experiences that have, within the personality, certain almost ritualized meanings, sometimes associated with psychological defenses. On the other hand, there can develop a creative component, where the point is a polarized relationship for the happiness of the adults in a relationship, without regard to the social structures around them. When the experience remains localized, it is usually carried out without interference from others; as it takes on more public significance, as in a global world and with expression on the Internet, it creates more controversy and conflict.

One risk is that concerns over sustainability (climate change) will force people, used to individualism, into more interdependence and that social structures generally supported by “conservatives” will become more important again.

You can take a “pretty short morality quiz” at Your Morals. I scored more “liberal” than I was expecting. Also, visit “Civil Politics”: "Can’t we all disagree more constructively?”

Friday, April 24, 2009

About "privacy policies" and blogs


Visitors should be aware of an industry document “Network Advertising Initiative: Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Preference Marketing by Network Advertisers” here.

Given economic conditions, the Internet industry is targeting ads more specifically by geographical area or sometimes by the analysis of tracking cookies, which may show an interest pattern, and sometimes by the presence of certain software on a computer, like Flash. As a result, online publishers are expected to provide more information to visitors who may want to opt out of certain practices. This has actually been the case since early 2008, although there has been little general awareness and almost no informal discussion of it in the blogging community.

While I don’t think that my blogs and sites will present any problems in actual practice, I’ve complied by placing privacy policies on each page. Generally speaking these are the same as the policies of almost any major media site (like a newspaper). However, laws in various countries as to specific additional policies can vary. A visitor in another country may have additional rights or restrictions. I’ve placed the “Privacy Policy” in a “gadget block” so that it appears at the bottom of the page, no matter what postings are viewed (adapted from this site; I had to reword some the language, changing plural “us” and “our” to grammatical singular, since I operate solo). I may consider a common link later. It's not yet completely clear to me what is the most ethical or proper way to put these notices on blogs (as compared to flat sites) as I can see some theoretical issues, at least. I think that this requirement raises the question of an “upward slippery slope.” Would it be logical to require bloggers to require login so that they know that visitors have agreed to the policy? How would you do that with a simple blog? Would it be logical to require that all such blogs be mapped to actual domains? Down the road, would it be logical to require insurance? (See this blog Sept. 25, 2008). This could take low-capital individuals out of the market of “free entry” blogging with some ad revenue. So often, a small change in the law or public policy could have major, unexpected repercussions.

I had previously believed that I did not need to state such a policy because I don’t currently require users to log on (as with passwords and security questions) or create accounts, and I don’t process any personal information at all (like credit cards); all my e-commerce is outsourced to other sites like Amazon and iUniverse. However, I do need to state a simple policy now given the current environment. I guess that's a bit of playing "brother's keeper."

A basic technical primer is here. I see that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is cautionary about this whole development in the marketing world, as with this link.

The visitor can read more about Google’s DoubleClick DART cookie here, and there are references there as to how to opt out of use.

In general, it’s important to remember that “Madison Avenue” is important to the Internet world of today. Even publishers that offer no ads (and some of my other sites and pages do not) are subsidized in a sense by those who do conduct business, and that is an important component of the “free entry” model common today (the other cornerstones of free entry are, of course, Section 230 and, like it or not, the DMCA Safe Harbor).

Many industries, especially in fashion (and especially in LGBT publications) are getting more mileage out of the technical and aesthetic quality of the advertisements. This holds also for motion picture trailers (although I get annoyed by DVD’s that make you take the time to watch previews from the distributor). There needs to be educational and real entertainment value in the advertisement itself for the whole business model to work.

Here's another resource, Privacy Choice (see comment).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Police departments checking "online reputations" of cadets, officers; sometimes school districts fire "after the fact"


The Washington Times is reporting that law enforcement agencies, especially local police departments and now the US Capitol Police, are starting to pay attention to what employees and applicants (especially police officers) say about themselves and other things on social networking sites and blogs.

The print front page headline on April 22 read “Capitol Police probe officers’ Facebook pages: Complaint cites degradation of women, hedonism,” in an exclusive by Gary Emerling, link here. One of the pages used the Imus term in a group called “The Make-It-Rain Foundation for Underprivileged Hoes”. When the story broke, many pages were taken down. The story reports that the New York City Police Department now checks online profiles for “undesirable candidates.” One police cadet in Washington state was forced to resign after a drinking picture appeared, and another was fired for what he said about the police academy on his personal blog.

Presumably law enforcement agencies are in a better position to determine whether they have identified the right person on a social networking site or blog than employers in general (certainly easy in a blog about a police academy).

Still, the tide is growing that the “social reputation” one builds online is something that really matters, for “amateurs” as much as for celebrities. Inevitably, more companies will be formed to do these kinds of “background investigations” on the Web although I wonder to what standards they could be held since it (unlike the web content itself) would be out of sight.



Update: April 23

A similar story was aired on ABC “Good Morning America” on April 23. At Casa Roble High School in Orangevale CA a young woman, Trent Allen Beck, was hired part time as a cheerleading coach and then fired after a parent complained that she had appeared in Playboy Online as “cybergirl of the week” in a members-only site (somewhat private, like a Facebook profile with privacy settings on). She had told the school about the site before and they had let her work until a parent complained. Here is a version of the story from a Sacramento television station, here.

I wondered about whether Beck has First Amendment protections as a public employee. But the tone of discussion on GMA was that “certain choices are inconsistent with other choices” (the old “conflict of interest” problem) and that people who make certain choices about how they express themselves publicly should not become teachers or work with kids. I wonder indeed. What about the same question for police officers in the first part of this posting?

But as far back as 1999, a nurse in Scottsdale AZ was fired after it was discovered she had appeared nude on the web, and similar incidents happened back then with teachers in Florida, as noted on ABC 20/20 then.

NASA Astronaut says we are not alone: get used to it!


Former astronaut Edgar Mitchell told a National Press Club gathering (after the “X-Conference:”) that the United States and other governments are hiding evidence that intelligent alien life exists elsewhere in the galaxy and has visited us.

Mitchell walked on the Moon in 1971 as part of Apollo 14, the next mission following the one in Ron Howard’s famous film.

But Mitchell was born in Roswell, NM, site of the notorious July 1947 “incident.”

The CNN story is here.

However, this morning (April 22) AOL reran the story with a visitor survey and a slide show, including a still picture supposedly of an alien looking into a house window. Link is here.

The most “compelling” sighting I ever experienced may have occurred in the Arizona desert in April 1978, a red and green object hovering to the east to Tonopah along I-10, at the old “Dan Fry Ranch” or property associated with “Understanding”.

If the government really were hiding something, it could be out of desperation. What if an alien civilization exploded an EMP device at a high enough altitude to fry the electronics on the whole earth in order to take it over? It sounds like a nice pretext for a sci-fi movie (perhaps the “Screen Gems” kind), even more compelling than “Knowing” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. Such a "purification" event would force people back into often unwelcome social interdependencies

In fact, yesterday, scientists issued a dire warning that we could me more vulnerable than we realize to a natural occurrence – solar storms, which have happened before. I gave the links yesterday in my movies blog review of “Knowing” March 20.

Picture: NASA photo of Titan's atmosphere with "anti-greenhouse" effect, Wikimedia Commons photo, attribution link here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Can a state "seize" and Internet domain to enforce its own laws?


Can a state “seize” a domain name because the domain name is an “object” that carries out activities that are illegal according to state law? The Commonwealth of Kentucky tried to seize 140+ overseas domain names conducting gambling.

EFF, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the ACLU have filed an amicus brief in the latest legal maneuvers in the case, link here. The Kentucky Court of Appeals had held that the gambling device statute did not cover domain names. The state had the right to seize the site unless it screened out Kentucky users. It’s not clear if this can be done at all (even though some IP’s could be screened), as we’ve seen the debate over identifying users in the COPA trial. It would obviously raise the proxy server question again.

The danger is obvious (rather like an endgame chess move, I think). A state could seize any domain name (or domain, it’s hard to say which) that does something it doesn’t like. Let’s say a site that encourages the use of medical marijuana in a state that has not legalized it could become fair game.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Online fiction: does an "all persons fictitious" disclaimer make any difference?


Do authors of online fiction (including posted screenplays, or perhaps screenplays entered into contests) need to include an “all persons fictitious disclaimer”? (Wikipedia article here).

Practically every fiction film in Hollywood today has the disclaimer in the end credits, and script clearance usually involves “negative checking” to make sure that no character will be confused with a real person.

Books, it seems, are much less consistent and often leave them out.

But I wonder if including the disclaimer really makes any difference. I’ve discussed the 1979 “Bindrim” case in California before on this blog (July 27, 2007) and it seems that, in some states at least, fiction can run a real libel risk if one is not careful.

The screenplay discussed in the 2007 posting arguably defamed “me” (for purposes of argument or illustration) and it is true that I never bothered to post a disclaimer. I thought the whole idea (of worrying about this kind of “self-defamation”) was silly until it blew up in my face. I don’t think a disclaimer would have made any difference in my situation.

Since 2005, as we know, “online reputation” has become a much more controversial and visible topic in the media (even more so now, with layoffs and economic recession). But that concern has come about because of social networking sites, not because of self-publishing blogs, sites, or even self-published books or self-distributed videos.

The other possible important disclaimer would be a “do not imitate” one, which I sometimes see in ads or even in end credits. I know an amateur filmmaker in Minneapolis who made a movie about extreme sports; I wonder if he needs to include it.

In at least one recent film, I’ve seen a disclaimer about tobacco use (I think it was “State of Play” where I saw that).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Something existential this way came -- Chickeman's "chicken and egg" problem!


Recently (April 12) I reviewed Joshua Cooper Ramo’s “The Age of the Unthinkable” on my books blog, and one particular statement quoted from Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger struck me. It struck me as a “neo old rule of engagement.” Here it is (again):

“The universal principle must be established that every able-bodied adult must in the course of his life hold a job in both the production systems and the caring economy and participate in some part of his working life or working year in the responsibility of caring for the old, the young and the infirm beyond the limits of family."

I’ve entertained the idea before that there could be a “rule” that everybody prove that he or she can support somebody by the self. A good term for a “rule” like this would be “mandatory generativity.” It supposes that emotional as well as financial uncertainty needs to be shared, as part of a new push toward "sustainability".

As a general matter, the conceptual requirement is unconditional, whereas in modern individualistic society, it is usually conditioned on behavioral choices (even “private choices”) such as causing a pregnancy. This ukase has two sides: it's your typical "chicken and egg" problem.

Unger and Ramo connect this concept to a “peer mediated” society where a network of peer communication (social networking sites certainly provide a modern mode) pressure everyone into this mode.

But, really, we had this rule in the past, perhaps until the 1960s, when it fell away during the Civil Rights movement and resistance to Vietnam, the draft, and corrupt administrations. But in previous generations, it had been implemented by social structures: family, church, community, government (including a military draft). A lot of it came from the authoritarian structure of formal religion (such as the Vatican). "Generativity" was considered as morally compelling as today's notions of more immediate "personal responsibility." And, unfortunately, older collective (and often religious) moral thought turned a blind eye on mass forms of high-level social injustice (racism, malignant nationalism, and the like), which sometimes led to the leftist reaction of “class warfare” but gradually encouraged the classically liberal solution of individualism – which, we found, could leave people out. Today’s post-9/11 world of unpredictable technology and economic tricks, peak fuels, climate change, weaker families and “demographic winter” seems to be bringing back this kind of thinking. Compare to previous generations, it will be less gender-related and broader; we’ll hear more talk of practically mandatory national service and “volunteering.”

Whether it is a “rule” or just a “community experience” becomes a Spanish puzzle, an existential question. The “rule” projection comes from the need to let every individual know what the bottom line expectations are. It seems that we have come to realize in recent years that what a lot of us want, even crave, is “meaning” or “brain belief”. If we commit ourselves to someone else for a half-century and forgo some our the operation of our own judgments (especially those from feelings, fantasy and apperception), we want it to “matter”, to have an effect on others. Often this means a demand for loyalty – even reverence -- from other family members, even as adults. Sometimes it leads to soap-opera style jealousy. But, after all, many people sincerely believe that their "life's work" must make someone else better before it has any "meaning." This viewpoint does not bode well for "personal autonomy", or the idea that one makes one's mark on the world independently first before intimacy, especially for people who may be more vulnerable to the unpredictabilities of "the system" and need interdependence on others more than they are willing to admit.

Modern medicine may be reinforcing the need for family solidarity in previously unimagined (in Ramo-talk, “unthinkable”) ways. Transplants and radical life-extensions are sometimes only conceivable with sacrifices from other family members, but maybe two decades ago many such treatments were not even possible so the whole ethical dilemma (“playing god”) could not even come up. Technology has a way of running us full circle, very much like a loop on a child’s model railroad set.

Friday, April 17, 2009

YouTube will partner with major studios, but says it still strongly supports user-generated content


YouTube will continue to encourage user-generated video content, even if that content does not easily or directly add to revenue and profits, according to an article in the New York Times Business Section today (April 17) by Brian Stelter and Miguel Helft. The title is “Deal Brings TV Shows and Movies to YouTube”, link here. The comment came in an interview from Google CEO Eric Schmidt with reporters. The “concern” grew out of a story that YouTube will start offering some selected movies and television series, some for pay, and others with corporate advertising, in order to increase revenue. In doing so YouTube will be competing with other businesses that offer video content: first, all the major networks and cable channels, as well as Hulu, with a particular subscription model offering almost unlimited movies for a low monthly rate, Netflix. But user-generated content adds to the popularity of the site, and the likelihood that some visitors will want to view revenue-generating content. The concept seems like an variation on or expansion of the idea of "ratings" long used (for decades) in broadcast television.

One possibility of the partnership is that “amateurs” may be able to find partners in larger or more established video or motion picture companies to do particular, independent projects, expanding the possible offerings in the independent film and cable television market into even more niches.

On Larry King Live tonight (April 17), actor and producer Ashton Kutcher, in a discussion of "Twitter War", said that Twitter is still building an audience while getting ready to monetize, and that "social media companies are hiring" in a time when production budgets for established studio shows and movies (from large publicly traded companies and studios) are being cut back. Celebrity is not an asset on Twitter, said Ryan Seacrest.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

U.S. wants to increase sentences for crimes involving proxy servers


Electronic Frontier Foundation and Google both posted an AP story, by Jordan Robertson, that the US Sentencing Commission was about to vote on whether to allow increased prison sentences in convictions or crimes using proxy servers. The link is here.

Proxy servers are common (and in fact, some companies like AOL use them “legitimately” as part of their logon technique) and so such a law could give the government the ability to increase sentences in almost any crime facilitated by a computer.

Kids often use them to get around filters at schools and workers sometimes do this in the workplace, which could create legally dangerous situations if such a provision is accepted.

Proxy servers are also used to provide anonymity, a sacred principle in web “civil rights”.

However the Justice Department claims that their use hinders legitimate investigations, especially into financial fraud such as “pump and dump” schemes.

Update: April 17

Jordan Robertson reports that the government won't classify proxies as 'sophisticated', Yahoo! AP story here.

Yes: the black cat in the picture is "anonymous".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Social networking sites increasingly helpful in solving crimes


ABC News has as story April 14 about how law enforcement can use social networking sites, especially Facebook, to solve crimes.

The story, by Ki Mae Heussner, is titled “Found on Facebook: Sleuthing 2.0, Cybersleuths Solve Crimes, Recover Lost Items,” link here.

The story discusses how victims connect on Facebook to share clues and how police departments set up Facebook accounts and pages to seek help from the public.

Since about 2005, the media has reported several instances where criminals implicated themselves on social networking sites, which led to their apprehension.

But the most sinister possibility is that clues for hits or very disturbing incidents might be found buried on Facebook, Myspace, blogs (which could be faked), or, particularly, comments made on discussion forums, and sometimes these could be matched up to “wallpaper” contents or other material posted on social networking sites. It’s possible that clues regarding international terrorism and drug cartel activity could be found here. I don’t know whether local police departments or investigative agencies (FBI, etc) are fully equipped to follow these kinds of clues now, or whether they need to hire more agents who are “social networking” and Web and even P2P savvy. I have a feeling that they need to look harder to the under 25 generation to build up their investigative possibilities (or maybe even over 65).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Washington Times solicits citizen journalism for special daily local series


The Washington Times, on its front page April 13, in a story by Jennifer Harper, announced that it will return to use of “citizen journalism.” The link is here.

The paper will have definite topic areas by day of week, including academia, military, suburban and DC jurisdictions. One page will be devoted each day, and more than one article could occur in a given day. Then general emphasis seems to be local news, with in-person presence and fact checking by the writers. Presumably the articles should be factual in nature and stay away from personal opinions.

I have had several LTE’s published in the Washington Times. The paper has also sometimes published longer Forum pieces on Sundays by non “professionals” about important topics. Generally the paper has a reputation for taking “conservative” positions and running syndicated columns from conservatives, sometimes libertarians.

Apparently as a money-saving measure, The Washington Times eliminated the Saturday print edition during 2008, combining it into Friday's.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Senate proposes contingent federal control of Internet in emergency (Cybersecurity Act of 2009)


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (Jennifer Granlick) advises web speakers to become wary of the proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2009, or, the longer title, S. 773, “A bill to ensure the continued free flow of commerce within the United States and with its global trading partners through secure cyber communications, to provide for the continued development and exploitation of the Internet and intranet communications for such purposes, to provide for the development of a cadre of information technology specialists to improve and maintain effective cybersecurity defenses against disruption, and for other purposes.” Govtrack link here.

It was introduced by John Rockefeller(D-WVa).

The bill would seem to federalize Internet security and give the president the authority to shut down major portions of the Internet under perhaps questionable grounds. One such circumstance, it seems to me, could be the possibility of steganography or unusually dangerous worms or massive infrastructure attacks that have been suggested. I don’t think Conficker takes us that far – yet.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Should every adult be prepared to become a role model?


One way that I seem to have gotten myself into trouble during recent years is saying very publicly something like this: “I am not effective as a man in protecting women and children.” Or, really, it is more like “I am not able to compete to bring other people under my control for whom I will be responsible for protecting.” Or perhaps something like, "If I were a dad, I wouldn't be better than your dad." It is somewhat, but not entirely, gender-based.

Gay men sometimes say things like this. Sometimes if seems as if we “brag” about our “impotence” (a very metaphorical word here). This sort of thing sometimes takes the form of an expression of “relief” from the competitive “pressures” of manhood. You can go to chat rooms or forums and message boards on the Internet and found it said with language too explicit to be repeated here.

And this has gotten me in trouble before, as in the public school systems, when I was substitute teaching (yes, parents and administrators use search engines). Call if part of “reputation management” if you will. I was removed from some schools for being “unwilling or unable” to implement sufficient discipline (“classroom management”). Of course, a sub doesn’t know the students as well, and this is not really “fair”. But in a few cases I was perceived as unwilling to step into a situation where authority is valued for its own sake, which (starting with the military) is sometimes necessary in life. It’s the “because I said so” problem. A school administrator, in one case, actually said he had to sit in on a particular class to “protect” a particular female student. He really used the word “protect”. Unbelievable!

Okay, then, we get to some double and triple entendre. I can say I can act like a role model when on my own turf, when I have home-field advantage, can lay down the outfield walls to my choosing, and bat last. But we all have to spend half our lives on the road, don’t we. I could say that I am simply rejecting the idea that masculinity is about performing as a patriarch, leader of the tribe. It can be a much more private thing that comes out in a relationship – as it does in dreams. You can call it “creative”.

But the cold hard fact is, that during a critical period of my own development, I did not fare well competitively when pit against other boys. I wanted to live life my own way, based perhaps on my music, piano, composition. In the Cold War scramble, amplified by the “moral” value placed on competitive success, I lost the opportunity to do that (and I hope my story is instructive to younger people who have followed me). But I found that I was required to do certain things (chores) certain ways when “it really didn’t matter”, when “it was irrational” and when all it proved was that I could live according to other people’s rules. Society changed in the 1960s and I reached a kind of truce, with a way to live, in large cities, in a kind of urban exile, as if on another planet. But my speech took on a putatively dark side: if I didn’t “cut it” by the rules set up by others, then so didn’t a lot of other people. Certainly there were plenty of men with no more athletic ability than me and no more external trappings of manhood, and yet they somehow married and reproduced, sometimes. I had every emotional incentive to remind them that they shouldn’t, if I shouldn’t. It could turn ugly.

So, why do I put all this out now? I can call it irony, and it is, and there are those in the “sustainability” movement who say we can no longer “afford” irony. We need generativity from everyone.

One point of all this is to note that some people indeed do quite well at everything. If you are good at the academic stuff and the physical, athletic stuff both, there is a very good chance that you will do well in life despite economic ups and downs. You will always be in demand, in bad times sometimes more than in good. That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen to good people – crime, disease, and so on. And that’s not to say that there hasn’t been real abuse and exploitation of people. In fact, such an observation drives us to want to see more justice, to see everyone “pay his dues”, to see everyone “serve” before taking advantage of asymmetry and stumbling into wealth or success. Again, absolute “justice” is “incompatible” with personal freedom, we say (just look at Chairman Mao). But personal success, relative to others, is very real, and quite variable. Adam Shephard proved with his experiment in deliberate homelessness as in his book “Scratch Beginnings”, trying to answer the lefty whines of Barbara Ehrenreich. Success depends on ability. But there is one more catch. “Ability” and the self-discipline to make ability pay, depends on family. You don’t have successful, self-actualized individuals without families to produce them. And those families usually depend on adults in committed, beyond-fantasy permanent intimate relationships, usually of the opposite gender.

So then, you come back in a circle, to what “marriage” demands. Some of that seems to be not just social approbation and economic benefits, but outright deference from others, most of all other family members before they are married themselves. Much of the “form” in housekeeping chores, after all, seems related to honoring the “marriage.” Procreation, within the “rules of engagement” of marriage, was a seen as a validation of your own biological will to live; however tied to “loyalty to blood”, it was seen as a prerequisite to legitimate access to the world; homosexuality was often seen as a rejection of one’s own family and one’s own biological potential and claims. Our culture has changed a lot since the 50s and come to view marriage (and children) more as a private choice, with responsibilities that are supposed to depend on that choice. But what we are finding is that this experience of hyperindividualism is running itself into instability, as sustainability and demographic pressures force us to reexamine all our precepts about the individual and family again.

In previous generations, parents often viewed the “family” as an entity of value in its own right, something that their marriage creates or builds on, and that others can depend on when they can’t “compete” as well. (Hence, the concerns over “existential integrity” in the post last Sunday). People, especially in lower income families, accepted loyalty to the family created by the sexual intercourse of others (parents) as a moral absolute. Remember the scene in “October Sky” when the oldest son says it is his duty to give up school to work in the mines to support the family when the father is ill with black lung? And, you got it, we changed a lot of that with our focus on individual fairness in the past few decades. And we came to play much more emphasis on individual effort and less on social manipulation as a way to organize surrounding economic activity.

With parents living longer and, outside of blue zones, at least, likely to become frail and dependent for some years, and with more radical medical procedures to save lives available today under the cooperation and sacrifice of other family members (even compared to ten years ago), we’re having to rethink family responsibility again. It’s about a lot more than “choosing” to have children. Anyone may wind up having to provide for and even “protect” others. That’s why the “irony” in the statements I alluded to at the start of this post has become so disturbing to some people in the past few years, even as social networking sites have grown. True, we need to work on how teens feel about themselves and deal with the bullying and put-downs when it happens (and hence the whole problem of cyberbullying becomes so acute socially). The “moral” wild card is “alternative” family structures, including those formed by gay marriage and adoption, and surrogacy. These developments do undermine the monopoly or hegemony exercised by traditional marriage over family responsibility.

I do have my own particular set of wishes as to the medical care that I would want and not accept as I grow older. Personally, the idea of becoming dependent some day is repugnant, whatever the moral philosophy. I will not be willing to make a spectacle of having my life saved, no generous Medicare is (and I expect it to become less so). There are some procedures that others would want that I would not want. There are other procedures that would be acceptable in some circumstances and sometimes with certain preparations. I won’t be more specific than that right now.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Obama administration defends warantless wiretapping even more expansively than did Bush


Glen Greenwald has an important article in Salon in which he reports that the Obama administration has taken “sovereign immunity” arguments even further than did the Bush administration in protecting the government from litigation for warrantless wiretapping. That is, the Obama administration is claiming that the government can spy on domestic communications all it wants (not just to protect “state secrets”), and is immune from lawsuit unless it makes an unlawful disclosure. That is, the government could collect data on your wireless transactions illegally all it wanted (even when it knows it is acting illegally), and might be able to use it later for prosecutions. The link to the Salon article is here. The article (“New and worse secrecy and immunity claims from the Obama DOJ”) has a number of images from the Obama DOJ briefs. This sounds sort of like the Frost/Nixon line “if the president does it, then that means it is not illegal” – that is, if the government does it, it is not illegal.

Salon, by the way, was one of the major plaintiffs in the COPA trial.

Marc Ambinder has a similar piece in The Atlantic, “Shut Up: It’s Still a Secret”, link here.

The mid 1990s, about the time that the Libertarian Party had its national convention in Washington DC, sound like the good old days now.

I doubt that Congress wants to do much about this. Really.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Internet "cash gifting" schemes attracting adverse attention; more pressure on Section 230 protections?


James Temple has an important story April 6 in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Beware online programs that promise cash,” link here.

Cash gifting programs are illegal in many states, being viewed as “chain letters.” California law makes it a crime when a “participant pays a valuable consideration for the chance to receive compensation for introducing one or more additional persons into participation.” Emphatically, that activity does not include multi-level marketing companies like Amway, which have been around for decades and whose operations are perfectly legal. However, the Internet has made it easier to propagate illegal gifting or chain letter schemes, with mechanisms like YouTube, forums, comments on blogs, and sites set up just for such promotions.

Internet companies typically make such activity violations of their “terms of service.” However, Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 protects them from liability. Temple notes a comment by Kurt Opsahl of Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the law encouraged “an environment where you can have media being democratized and all the voices of ordinary people going online. If they were subjected to liability depending on the content, the Internet would become the province of only rich, cautious media companies."

Nevertheless, there are more pressures in recent court cases to make Internet companies accept more downstream liability risk, and there could be political pressures to roll back some Section 230 protections to protect the foolish in the general public from themselves. The Viacom suit aims to make YouTube police content more for copyright infringement, and there is a recent trademark suit (Rescuecom) affecting the use of keywords in searches that could display ads in “misleading” or “diluting” circumstances, as explained on my trademark blog April 4, here.

We have to remain vigilant about all these efforts to chip away at Internet “democratization.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Associated Press will design a coherent strategy to handle infringement of its copyrights on the Web


The Wall Street Journal reported today (April 7, 2009) in its print edition on the front page, in a story by Russell Adams, that the Associated Press is launching a premeditated effort to monitor and control the use of its content online in various portals, including “news amalgamation” sites that reproduce headlines and excerpts, and search engines. It was not clear how ordinary blogs would be affected if they merely hyperlink in a conventional fashion.

The full title of the story is “AP to Fight Illegal Use of Content on Web Sites”. The link here shows the full story only to subscribers (this is common with many but not all WSJ online stories) but shows the beginning to all. I happened to pick up the print edition today.

The Associated Press has maintained that it must protect the revenue stream for its member organizations to protect a free press.

Other sites, including AOL, MSNBC and The Washington Post, often reproduce AP stories with permission. Sometimes the stories disappear after two weeks (according to AP permissions contracts), but on MSNBC it appears that the stories often stay up indefinitely.

When a story originates on the AP, I always try to give the URL if I can find it, but sometimes I cannot find it on AP when I do find it on other newspaper sites or MSNBC. Even on AP the content expires and disappears after time. The story often appears with the banner of a particular newspaper, but often it does not appear logical to me that the newspaper could have originated the story.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Police, school administrators troll social networking sites for future trouble


Today, Monday April 6, 2009, the front page of the Washington Post carried a local story by Michael Birnbaum about the activity of local police, especially in Fairfax County, VA, to look for evidence of crimes on Facebook and Myspace, or to look for signs of impending crime or gang activity. Police departments around the country do the same, and sometimes social networking posting and discussion forums contain clues (often needing to be matched up with online forensics) for unusual crimes after commission.

School administrators also look at social networking sites and sometimes other blogs and sites for signs of trouble, especially when informed by parents, and administrators may have a short fuse as to what they see as alarming. This can include material posted by teachers or even subs and aides.

Many teens don’t use privacy settings, which for Facebook opens the material to a wide audience and on Myspace (or on ordinary sites and blogs) to the entire world.

It wasn’t clear if police were bypassing privacy settings sometimes. But kids often fail to use privacy settings and don’t realize that they have no “expectation of privacy” then. And many parents fail to understand what their kids are doing.

The article mentions the “online reputation” problem, where schools and employers are looking at profiles or doing “search engine background investigations”, which may raise ethical and legal questions because they can so easily nab the wrong person. This practice has been common since about the end of 2005, and has raised controversy.

The story title is “The Profile Police: Campus Officers Cruise Facebook, MySpace for Clues To School-Related Crimes, to Some Students' Chagrin” link here.

On ABC's "The View" on Monday April 6, 2009, Molly Ringwald and Shailene Woodley discussed the "secret life of teens" on the Internet and particularly discussed the importance of privacy settings on social networking sites, as well as the possibility that future employers will look at profiles.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Phillip Longman, social contract, and childless "astronauts": a new call for "generativity"


A while back (March 22), I discussed the implications of Phillip Longman’s proposal for a “Family-Based Social Contract.” I think we can cut through the polity in the “AP government” theories of Rousseau and Hume and get down to the critical issue: what would a new “social contract” mean for individuals, especially for those who had not formed their own families as adults?

I think that the key concept that Longman ("The Empty Cradle") and David Gray would promote is “generativity.” That means, an obligation of every individual to participate, financially and emotionally (in terms of connections to other people) in providing for the next generation and taking care of the last. It means that every person becomes a stakeholder in the future of progeny, other people’s if he doesn’t have his own. That’s obviously relevant to the debates on the environment, climate change, and “sustainability.” On the other hand, it seems to complicate the modern, individualism-born idea that parents have to be primarily and perhaps exclusively responsible for the children they have. Longman and others point out that this is becoming an unreasonable assumption. The views of conservative sociologists like Longman add on to comparable concerns from liberals that we cannot “afford” to keep the highly individualized and mobile lifestyles that we have come to expect in the past forty years. (The term "generativity" was discussed in the book "The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics" in the 21st Century” with these authors: Richard Jackson, Neil Howe, Rebecca Strauss, and Keisuke Nakashima; see Jan. 23, 2009 on my books blog.) "Generativity" is related to other dated social concepts like "loyalty to blood" (as in a particular episode of the sci-fi show "Jake 2.0" in 2004).

In fact, this was a concept that we all shared a half century ago, until it broke apart starting with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Men were expected to prove that the could compete to provide for and protect women and children, then actually marry and have and raise the kids. We all knew people who didn’t do that, but they were supposed to stay out of sight and care for their own families (for people who did) or fulfill special roles defined for them, such as priests for men and nuns and teachers for women. The pressure seemed to be first on men; “masculinity” was seen as an “achievement.” “Generativity” then included sharing in the common defense of the community. We had a draft then, and the idea that some people could be deferred from the risk of combat sacrifice because of greater “brains” became morally complicated and questionable. There was a definite moral disapproval of “getting out of things” that transcended the consequences of one’s “private choices” and made overinvestment in one's own goals or meeting one's own personal needs not such a good thing. One's future opportunities in life, in the views of this time in history, could morally depend on how well one could fit these contingent "obligations"; this how one proved himself "good enough" or "paid his dues." I recall a company commander in Army Basic Training personally counseling me (in 1968) on the necessity of taking my turn learning to be a "guerrilla fighter".

I caught the short end of this in early tween years, with consequences that I have detailed before. My reaction was partially to believe that I was out of the running to have my own biological lineage, so I constructed another way to live and become productive. Part of the psychology of it was “upward affiliation” as a gay man. But what I gradually discovered over the years that “existential integrity” matters. (Yes, the term reminds me of “referential integrity” in relational database theory.) That notion works in both directions, with the converse becoming true. Society wanted men to prove they were “worthy” of families but, out of the need for social harmony, would send young men that didn’t quite “make it” that they still should get married and do the best they can (else stay home, most of the time). And the emotional satisfaction of “upward affiliation” was predicated on the idea that “masculinity” really matters and figures into a “moral currency.” You can’t believe and express such things forever without eventually having to face living with their implications.

All of this was put in moral terms then. Since the 1960s, we have gradually developed an approach where we look at notions like immutability, and have backed away from a culture that places so much emphasis on “moral assessments” of people. Perhaps Christian grace would compel us to be open to looking at people differently than we had. But that’s always been a mixed bag. After all, the nuclear family was supposed to become a unit of identity for everyone, including adults who did not have their own children. Fighting for the welfare on one’s own nuclear family was a responsibility and perk that went along with procreative marital sexual intercourse. In the 60s (partly but not entirely because of the politics of race and dealing with segregation and discrimination) other ways of looking at people more collectively (in “suspect classes”) developed. (I add here: in kindergarten, in 1949, the teacher divided us into “brownies” and “elves”. I, a white person with the beginning some developmental issues, was classified as a “brownie.” The idea sounds offensive today, but it introduced the idea, popular then, or “moral station in life.”)

Over time, new tensions developed between those (particularly of average or less income) with families to support, and singles or the childless or those not having responsibility. In the 1980s, under Wall Street pressure, the workplace started to become more Darwinian, and people with fewer responsibilities could sometimes “lowball” the job market by working overtime for less. Corporate America seemed to encourage this, and by the 1990s social conservatives started to take note, sometimes (although not that frequently), writing in favor of the “family wage.”

What drives the idea of “generativity” toward a possible social crisis is not just the climate change and energy concerns from the “liberals”; it is also demographics (sometimes the “demographic winter” and “wrong babies” arguments of some more radical Christian conservatives). That is, demographics coupled with medicine. We can keep the elderly alive longer, but often with great frailty and dementia. In fact, we may find that Alzheimer’s disease will force a change in our thinking about “family mores” more than HIV did two decades ago, although with very different mechanisms. Another concern is that medicine is able to offer life-saving treatments (like organ and bone marrow transplants) today that were inconceivable fifteen years ago, but these cannot be entertained without the essentially involuntary sacrifices of other family members (not just parents). Of course, there are “blue zone” communities with great longevity with little disability, and that raises the possibility that medicine will improve to the point that the elderly will not need the attention from family and society that they need today. But that’s comparable to saying that, indeed, maybe innovation in clean energy will enable introverts like me to keep our way of life without sacrifice. Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty about what science will do both for and against us. Even, so, I think that the “Astronaut’s Problem” will become a serious one. By that, I mean a single person planning to explore Mars (or Europa or Titan, for that matter) would not be allowed to go if he or she had a family member (even other than an own child) who might become dependent while he or she was gone.

So, what does Longman’s thesis come down to, as a moral lesson: that everyone will have “family responsibility” regardless of the choice to have children, and that may make children more “valuable” again, especially if born to younger parents. Others, not willing to identify so much with a family that they did not extend with their own procreation, may find themselves stuck with “second class citizenship.” But everyone will develop some of the skills necessary to nurture and provide for other generations and take their turns doing so. In these “rules of engagement”, you won’t be heard from until you do.

Now, have you, there is a “libertarian take” on all this. That is, that families ought to sit down and develop “contracts” on what family members will expect of one another (even adults) given the lifespans and the likelihood of medical impositions. (I realize that families have to do this for other reasons, like adult children with college debt and a tight job market “living at home”) One way a single or childless person can defend his sovereignty is build his own homestead, but capable of housing other dependents (parents) if necessary. But that means more debt, more risk taking, and more competitiveness (sort of the back side of the “soap opera coin”). Along these lines, it’s apparent that states will need to rethink the various instruments they use (powers of attorney, guardianships, conservatorships, etc) and which mediate the intervention of the state in serious situations. One concept that could evolve, again, is “generativity” – if someone is a guardian, conservator, or even holds a power of attorney, there could be a legal requirement of a genuine stake in the “family” to avoid conflict of interest of possibility of an outside “Lifetime movie” setup. Right now, however, many families use trusts to enforce their “loyalty” wishes (even with the “dead hand”), but the idea of doing such is generally not that well known. Along these lines, allowing same sex marriage might actually be helpful. Possibly gay marriage and adoption will become less divisive – and actually be seen as constructive – if they are seen as a way of making real commitment and taking real responsibility for others, and a renouncing of living in a fantasy world. Jonathan Rauch has often argued this. The specter that the current financial crisis will encourage many states to enforce their filial responsibility laws (or “poor laws”) could be another mechanism that will explode like bad arterial plaque and force the issue into public debate.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Are Mark Cuban's tweets subject to "fair use"? It all comes from an NBA game and a ref's call


Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stirred up some IP law controversy, by accident, after he was fined $25000 by the NBA for complaining about referees on his twitter feed on a Mavericks-Nuggets game. The controversy came about when Cuban claimed that others don’t have the right to republish his tweets.

True, short as they are, in principle tweets are protected by copyright law. But since Cuban’s tweets are not his principal source of income or even public image, requoting them noncommercially is probably fair use.

Ryan Corazza has an article on the Cuban affair on ESPN (title: "Does Mark Cuban Have a Case?: Reporting from the Jock-o-sphere: Mark Cuban says his Tweets are copyrighted. He's both right and wrong"), an odd place to find an article on copyright or other intellectual property law, here. (Or maybe not; look at how consistely MLB, NBA and NFL guard their content and trademarks.)

Mark Cuban has his own weblog which (as of April 3) has a post “Some Twitter Thoughts.”

Cuban is also known for his ownership (with others) of HDNet, 2929 Entertainment and Magnolia Pictures, connected to the Landmark Theater chain that specializes in independent film exhibition.

In the past his blog has promoted his films, such as a post "Go see 'Bubble'" in 2006, when he experimented with simultaneous theatrical and DVD release of a controversial film.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Reading Rights Coalition protests Amazon's agreeing to allow publishers to disable Kindle 2 voice playback


The Reading Rights coalition will have a demonstration outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City at 31 East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009. Amazon has announced that it will give authors and publishers the ability to disable the text to speech technology for published works at their discretion on Kindle 2.

It’s not clear what the Authors’ Guild’s rationale would be. It would seem that if a book is purchased from Amazon to be accessed on Kindle, that all rights for playbook naturally would be included. Of course, someone could play the book back vocally for multiple people, who presumably could not read the device at the same time (except that they could, on a computer screen or projection TV). It sounds mean spirited to say the least. I cannot imagine wanting to disable that function myself.

The press release from Reading Rights is here.

The story appeared this morning on the website of Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bill's math and physics quiz (high school teachers: use it!; students: study for it!)


While I’m not in the classroom right now, I can still make up a mathematics quiz. High school algebra, geometry and physics teachers, have at these for making up your exams. Students, be warned.

For Question 1, assume that you are building a baseball “field of dreams” on a vacant fallow field on a farm. You lay down home plate and lay out the bases in a square, 90 feet apart as usual, and put down an outfield fence 330 feet from home plate. (We actually did this near Oberlin, Ohio in the 1950s.) Hint: you can use the Pythagorean Theorem a lot in answering these questions.

(1-1) If home plate is at the center of a circle made by the outfield fence, how far is it to dead center field for a home run?

(1-2) If the first and third base lines become chords in a circle formed by the fence, how far is it to dead center field? Is it likely that major league baseball could use this design? Why or why not?

(1-3) Starting with the situation in (1-2) how far do you have move home plate to have a distance of 400 feet to dead center? (Call this the “Oakland Coliseum effect”).

(1-4) If, instead, the first and third base lines make a perfect square with the outfield fence, with foul likes of 330 feet, how far is it to dead center field? Is this practical for baseball? (I believe that Old Shibe Park in Philadelphia and the St. Louis Browns stadium in the 1940s, where the Senators were splitting a double header on V-J day in 1945, had this design.)

(1-5) Is the pitcher’s mound (60 feet, 6 inches from home plate) in the exact middle of the diamond? Why or why not?

Question 2: Suppose you are playing a game in Fenway Park in Boston. You are playing left field. The Green Monster, the left field wall, is 37 feet high, and it is 315 feet down the left field line. The batter hits a line drive that strikes the wall on the foul line and is making an angle of 75 degrees with the wall when it hits one foot from the top of the wall. Assuming that the ball is not hooking or slicing (although it really would be) and is perfectly elastic, where do you need to be (how far from the wall) to catch the ball on the carom off the wall without it hitting the ground. Is the batter out if you succeed?

There is some Newtonian physics and some trigonometry here.

By the way, Science News has an article on “Home runs and ballparks” by Ivars Peterson, Aug. 10, 2002, here.

Question 3: Teenage Clark Kent is quarterbacking for Smallville High. From his own goal line, he throws a pass. The ball reaches a height of 50 feet. Assuming a standard 100 yard football field, how much time does Clark have to use his “powers” or “speed” to reach the other end zone in time to catch his own pass? Is this legal?

Question 4: How many ways can a team score exactly 7 points in a football game? It is impossible in American football for a team to wind up with a total of how many points?

Question 5: The nearest alien civilization with “the Grays” is on an “Earth 2” exactly 30 light years away. If you build a spaceship that can go at 99% the speed of light, and make the journey in slightly over 30 years, how much older will you be when you get there? (Okay, there is some relativity here).

Picture: RFK Stadium in Washington DC, during the Nationals's first season in 2005. It was very much a "pitcher's park" -- except for Soriano.