Saturday, October 31, 2009

Indiana school disciplines students for off-campus Myspace pages


A high school in Indianapolis, Churubusco, banned two sophomore girls from extracurricular activities at school after they posted “racy” photos during the summer vacation on their Myspace pages. The girls maintain that the postings had nothing to do with the school, and have filed suit against the school district on First Amendment grounds.

The MSNBC and AP story says that the Supreme Court has ruled that schools can regulate off-campus online speech if there is a foreseeable risk that the speech will be found by other students (as with search engines) and disrupt the campus. This comment may refer to the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case in Alaska regarding a student named Joseph Frederick (now, as an adult, an English teacher himself, ironically).

The students were also asked to apologize to coaches (which makes one wonder if the original posts had nothing to do with the school) and undergo counseling.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Should "professional" news media have government subsidies? Then what about bloggers?


Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols have an important op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, Friday Oct. 30, p. A19, “Yes, journalists deserve subsidies, too”, link here.

They start out by quoting President Obama: “I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.” I hope that my own material rises above that: I do try to put stories in context by the way they are organized and labeled in blogs, and I do check with reputable sources for things. This op-ed comes from a “reputable source” after all.

Indeed, it was “citizen journalism” (indeed the topic of the previous posting here on their not being included in the proposed shield laws) that became viewed as the counterweight to well-funded special interests in the past fifteen years, a point well made in the COPA trial to which I was a party. Yet, as the writers here point out, there can be a rebound effect: in the blogosphere, the shouters with the most money could still carry the day.

The columnists point out that the “fundamentals” of newspaper economics are forcing not only consolidation of the majors, but also the disappearance of small papers and the elimination of hundreds or thousands of newsroom jobs. They are that in the early days of the nation, the news business was subsidized, and it needs to be subsidized as a non-profit public good (rather like PBS) again.

Of course, what worries me is that once journalists accept public money, what they say can be regulated by politicians. That’s the entire point that the ACLU and EFF have battled in court for the past ten years, in cases including COPA.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Senate and House versions of shield bills limit protected journalists to "professionals" (who earn $$$ from outside parties)


The Senate and House are honing in on limiting the scope of journalistic shield laws to “professionals” – those who are paid salaries or contracting wages from third party news or media organizations. The Senate version seems to allow for the occasional professional journalist but the House requires that the journalist earn regular income or report for substantial financial gain. Both cut out self-proclaimed "citizen journalists", although one wonders how someone with a financial track record (like Heather Armstrong of dooce.com) would fare in this definition.

The Niemann Journalism Center at Harvard University has an article with URL here. The bills are S 448 and HR 985 (the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009, govtrack link here).

The bill reflects similar thinking in other areas, such as with the Authors Guild, which generally accepts for membership authors who have been published by third party trade publishers, generally for income, as with the link here. Associate memberships are availble for authors with contracts with third party publishers for works not yet published, and membership-at-large is available for literary agents who work with regular trade and university publishers. But note that the emphasis is on the idea that the author can earn a living from writing.

The government may well be aware that “amateur” bloggers sometimes “stumble”upon major tips (even regarding potential terrorism) and expects “amateurs” to fully share sources and information with law enforcement.

The “professional journalist” concept could become important some day in the area of media perils insurance.

See also the "Bill on Major Issues" blog (profile) Sept. 10, 2009.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bloggers and "conflict of interest" -- the "implicit content" problem


Over the past few years, I, like many bloggers, have become increasingly concerned about the topic of “online reputation”, and particularly the issue of “implicit content”, the notion that an online posting, while acceptable use by ordinary reckoning (or terms of service provisions), might be misread by others (especially employers or clients or other personal stakeholders) as implying some kind of troubling future intention or propensity.

I haven’t really done this with my own blogs, but imagine tagging all the entries in the blogs with, when applicable, the following labels: (A) personally sensitive issue (B) contains personal narrative.

Examples of personally sensitive issues would be pretty clear: race, religion, political affiliation, disability status, sexual orientation, nationality, and certain items in debate that lend themselves to insensitive observations, such as in today’s health care debate. Future debates about eldercare are likely to fall into this area, such as “demographic winter”, filial responsibility, and means testing. Most likely bigtime international issues, especially those connected to terrorism, fall into this area.

Then it’s pretty clear what issues remain, the gradually “impersonal” problems. The best examples of these are probably Internet security and identity theft prevention, network neutrality, copyright law (including the DMCA), trademark law and patent law (including the prospective dilution concept), and censorship (like the COPA case). But the more technical areas of finance (including retirement financial issues such as social security and Medicare, 401(k)’s and defined benefit pension issues) and tax law (IRS rules) fall into this area, as do techniques for trading in securities markets. Environmental issues (global warming, strip mining) generally fall into this category.

Before Web 2.0 and social networking sites and social media came along (more or less by 2005), I had written that people who get paid to make decisions about others (generally that means people who have direct reports in a conventional workplace) should not blog in an unsupervised fashion (skipping the due diligence and financial results expectations that used to limit what “got published”) within the purview of search engines. One of the biggest concerns was the possibility of triggering a hostile workplace situation, posing an unbounded legal risk for the employer. I thought of it as a distribution issue; once you allowed use of the “free entry” mechanism to distribute original content, then you faced content censorship (and pre-publication review) if you wanted to contain the risk. “Matrix managers” (team leaders without direct reports or end user client company associates who supervise outside contractors only [and no internal employees]) did not present the same level of risk (that is, presumably much less!), and nor did individual contributors, although when staffing firms send consultants to clients, the staffing firms might become concerned if clients find controversial writings by the contractors online. Generally, companies have handled the “blogging policy” issue by saying that when people speak online on their own with their own resources, they must clearly identify their views as their own and not necessarily that of their employers. But that might not preclude serious risks of hostile workplace issues in some situations.

But knowledge, while “dot-connected” (as I have written in the past, when discussing the “opposing viewpoints” paradigm) is kind of like federalism. Some areas (like Internet security) are usually well-addressed separately (like issues that are “left to the states”). There is no reason why a manager, say in an ordinary financial institution’s IT department, could create problems if he or she blogged about Internet security products on personal computers (except that she would not be permitted to discuss her own employer’s confidential security practices).

Category (B) comes into play if a posting relates a personal incident (not previously published in “establishment media”), or even if it relates personal knowledge of a professional or previous workplace matter not otherwise known to the public. Typically people write blog postings describing wrongful things that they believe were done or that affected them personally and adversely in institutions or workplaces, or in families. Sometimes they relate only to legitimate “professional” workplace issues: for example, how a mainframe shop at a specific company, named in a blog, handled security or elevations ten years ago compared to how the same issues would be handled today. The problem is prospective: a stakeholder can become, with some legitimacy, concerned that the blogger has a “propensity” (a word known from the military “don’t ask don’t tell”) to disclose quasi-private information after believing that a particular workplace or other business arrangement has been closed or terminated. But one way to handle this sort of problem (as I wrote here on May 30) is to construct a “business privacy agreement” with stakeholders, promising to consult them before writing about them at some unspecified time in the future, and to honor all confidentiality requirements (trade secrets, HIPAA, etc.) as normally understood.

Under (B) it is possible for a blogger to post new material (not previously published and attributed with a link) that is not “personal”. For example, a blogger could report on oral arguments before the Supreme Court, or on an anti-war demonstration, without placing the posting in (B).

Remember, Web 2.0 services were devised with the notion that people could network with various levels of privacy settings, outside of the scope of search engines. The purpose was supposed to be directly social rather than to “get published.” Of all the services, Facebook may be the most flexible. Generally, these concerns would not affect “legitimate” social networking on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, as long as the person did not disclose business confidences (which can be repeated by others even when not accessible to search engines).

Generally speaking, book, movie or music reviews as on some of my other blogs do not contain personal or “sensitive” material, but sometimes I have added personal anecdotes to a few of them, and a few of them (especially documentaries) address touchy subjects.

Although I do not foresee employment that would throw me into this kind of “conflict of interest” problem in the immediate future, eventually I may have to segment my own content this way. For example, in preparing to agent my own screenplays in the future, I might find it necessary to behave differently on the web. Were I to wind up in a "professional" situation where I could no longer comment publicly on touchy issues (like "don't ask don't tell") in open and searchable public spaces, it would be difficult for me, for at least a while, to remain "politically active" with credibility, given my own history. Sometimes you really do need "organizations" and conventional politics.

Content labeling software (based on “semantic Web” architecture), developed largely for giving parents the ability to protect kids (with the cooperation of web publishers, with the ICRA) could be expanded to include “privacy and controversy tags” like those discussed here. But the use of these labels or categories could make it easier to provide liability or media perils insurance for bloggers in the future, if that insurance becomes mandatory some day.

Material published in books (even e-books) that must be purchased (and presumably produce auditable financial results), even self-published material, does not lead to this kind of risk when readers must pay a fair market price (rather than "free") to access the material; the pricing mechanism would presumably enforce some protective "due diligence" lacking in today's spontaneous blog posting process.


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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

EFF launchpads DMCA "Takedown Hall of Shame"


The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put up a “Takedown Hall of Shame” webpage, showing how free speech has been suppressed by various corporate or political interests with bogus copyright (and sometimes trademark) infringement claims, leading to DMCA takedown notices, later found to be legally unsustainable. Here is the URL link. One of the most curious comes from the “National Organization for Marriage”. NOM produced a video opposing same-sex marriage, but then Rachel Meadows at MSNBC played a humorous set of audition interviews of “actors” trying out to play in the NOM video. The “audition” was on YouTube here but was removed after the takedown. But MSNBC has another copy on its own website here.

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This is funny in my mind because one of my own screenplay scripts, “Make the A-List” (from 2003), starts with an audition scene, but not like this!

Other “guilty parties” include DeBeers, the diamond conglomerate (remember the Di Caprio movie “Blood Diamond”) that silenced a satirical newspaper treatment, and the Warner Music Group, which EFF says is involved in an ongoing feud with YouTube.

Somehow EFF's page reminds me of Gregory Smith's film "Kids in America" (back in 2005), about suppressing free speech in public school systems -- a film from a company called "Launchpad Releasing" (now also "Slowhand Releasing", ironically).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Curator journalism, the "rules of engagement", and "scoping others": why some people think marriage is mandatory


People question my “curator journalism” as to what’s in it for me, and who benefits from it. An underlying theme of all my posts is personal “karma”, and the underlying tension between a worldview based on individual rights (and equality of opportunity although not necessarily results), another view based on equality through “social rights”, and a conservative view based on the “family” as the appropriate source of individual identity in a world that is necessarily unstable and unequal (the supposedly Biblical view). I try to present all this from a historical perspective, from credible resrarch sources as amplified by my own unusual personal history. I think it is necessary to understand the history of these matters very deeply (a half century ago, “family” really was the granularity of society). For one person or a small group to develop such a repository of cultural history that is always “there” offers the opportunity to confound the traditional reliance on special interests to drive political change.

When someone like me can self-publish these in an unregulated matter, with no formal external due diligence, people sometimes get antsy. If they don’t see the big political perspective in an abstract sense, they may feel that my point is to make them feel uncomfortable personally, to step on their toes. (Merely bringing up some sensitive aspects of the “health care debate” can make some people perceive amateur discussions about it this way; the same would hold for discussions of “demographic winter” as well as the current debates over gay marriage and gays in the military.) Or they may feel that I demonstrate a “propensity” (language from “don’t ask don’t tell”) to talk about confidential matters at some time way down the pike in the future, when respect for current business privacy , as legally driven weakens. I can only offer good faith, good business relationships, and private anecdotes (of a specific nature) to back myself up.

Particularly testy is the way I present the history of my own realization of homosexuality, as related in part to the inability to compete with other boys during my youth, as if that was an indirect biological influence, but denying oversimplified (but convenient) ideas that sexual preference is by itself mostly genetic or biological. That can lead to the idea that the main point of my saying so is existential: to warn heterosexuals that I am their “scorekeeper” through my scoping. However guaranteed by modern ideas of free speech and the First Amendment, this motive would seem to encourage less “competitive” heterosexuals to give up on committed marriage, seemingly a sadistic goal. No wonder, then, that some people would prod me to take up their causes rather than my own, and specifically to show some kind of prior commitment to family responsibility myself before speaking out (eg, “the privilege of being listened to”). Hence, we turn the debate on “family responsibility” inside out, making it a mandatory prerequisite for everyone, not just a consequence of a particular choice (like having a child). But then I can come back with this: the point is to say that people should “do better” on their own before just running to politicians and claiming to be members of victimized groups. Sure, I can say that people should “do better” without undermining the idea that we really do need some deep social reforms, ranging from solving the pre-existing conditions problem in the health care debate to encouraging some sort of national service and revisiting our own personal obligation to care for our parents.

Against all of this, I ponder the problems in social media and self-publishing that I would like to tackle as a second career: how to manage “online reputation” and systemic risk of publishing without the previously expected steps of due diligence, and how to understand the relationship between the “social” and “expressive” (publication-oriented) aspects of all social media. And all of this reflects back on our “rules of engagement” as individuals and as members of families and social groups.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

False accusations against teachers are still a "big problem"


This morning (Oct. 22), ABC “Good Morning America” ran an important story about a 26 year old female high school teacher (in Kentucky) who was acquitted of charges of improper contact with a 16 year old male student in her apartment. The teacher and student had traded hundreds of text messages, but the teacher insists that a high volume of texts is common in her own use, and the telecommunications company had deleted the messages (mysteriously). Apparently the student had “stolen” the cell phone at one point, but was never disciplined by the school system. The detailed story by Lee Farran and Sarah Netter appears here. Despite the acquittal, the teacher’s career as a teacher may be over because of the (possibly unfounded) accusations, and the teacher now works in banking; the headline says that the teacher's life was "ruined". The prosecutor had offered a plea bargain without s.o. registry, but the teacher insisted on a fair trial and “won.”

In 2003, LionsGate and Lifetime made a film called “Student Seduction” in which a female chemistry teacher is accused after a high school student uses force on her, although in the film the teacher has unwisely socialized with the student before the incident. In 2004 I wrote and (in early 2005) posted a fictitious screenplay short called “The Sub” in which a gay male substitute teacher is set up and “somewhat falsely” accused and sent to prison (to die there) by a precocious male music student (after the student had saved the sub’s life by using a defibrillator). The publication of the screenplay would eventually provoke an “incident” in October 2005, which I detail in a posting here on July 27, 2007.

Media reports of improper behavior by teachers seems to have increased markedly since 2005, perhaps because of Chris Hansen’s notorious series on NBC Dateline. It is quite likely that some or many of them are unfounded. On occasion, a student (perhaps because of bad grades. Most likely a female) will try to set up a teacher (most likely a male; most of these incidents are heterosexual); this is something that definitely happens somewhere in the U.S. occasionally. This seems to become a serious practical risk of entering teaching.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

AP develops ap to look for infringing uses of its stories


The Associated Press claims to be about ready to deploy an application that will prune the Web for illegal uses of its content. An Ars Technica article by Matthew Lasar (June 1, 2009) reports Lasar’s interview with the AP news editor Ted Birds, link here. Birds steadfastly claims that the AP’s main concern is wholesale copying of stories without commentary. But there is also a vague concept of “hot news” misappropriation. And many AP stories or stories on some television station channels warn against “redistribution” or “rewriting” (paraphrasing) of stories. But I always thought that news facts, once published once, were not themselves copyrightable.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The "social contract" and its neo-modern instantiation


I’ve often written here about the culture war between “personal autonomy” vs. “public morality”, which sifts down to the idea that a social unit (normally the traditional nuclear family) should become the central bargaining unit in society, rather than the individual. Such a view accepts as “reality” that people are naturally “unequal” and that parents have not only the duty to raise children but to mediate the emotional lives of all members of the family under then. Such an arrangement is obviously open to abuse from those in power.

The opposite of this is hyper-individualism, which regards each individual as having a “station in life” that is “earned” by the individuals intrinsic merit and then hard work. In such a society, “weaker” members, whatever their familial origin, drop out. The comparison of these two poles is like a comparison of lions and tigers.

And these models can themselves degenerate into political “isms” like communism (with its process of expropriation) or fascism (with its process of elimination). Sometimes the notion of “grace” in Christianity is used to justify expropriation.

There is a way to reconcile these models, with what some writers (like Phillip Longman) call a new “social contract,” where common obligations are allocated to the measure of the individual. Wikipedia describes the notion as a class of rules by which a society maintains social order. But I think a more apt interpretation today is a set of rules, laid down (perhaps in statute, perhaps in equity) for individuals to share some of the intangible risks and uncertainties faced by a society, beyond the control of usual market economic forces.

The most recent example of the call for “social contract” is the concern over “demographic winter.” People of certain temperaments find more personal fulfillment in individually driven cultural activities than in social intimacies, and come to perceive having families and children as too risky or taxing. Therefore, in some affluent cultures, birth rates drop way below replacement. This naturally leads to discussion of measures, requiring sacrifices from individuals, to those who have “chosen” to have children.

Another interpretation of this view of “social contract” is the older idea of gender norms: that men make themselves fungible to protect women and children, and find meaning only when they become husbands and fathers themselves. Or, artistic or career accomplishment is meaningful only in the context of meeting “real needs” or “real people” in “real life”. The end point of this kind of (“soap opera”) thinking is that sometimes jealousy is good, and relationships, family formation, and procreation are practically mandatory.

This sort of notion did form the basis of the “moral thinking” of a couple decades ago; a marriage maintained its passion by the social control it could exert over others, quite frankly.

A modern “social contract” might be summed up as “pay your dues” as well as “pay your bills”. It does sound anti-libertarian. Some of its “rules” have been covered here before, like on the Oct. 9, 2007 blog entry here. Modern “social contract” theorists talk about bringing back the “family wage,” policy changes to favor large families, and policies to penalize singles or the childless, as well as ideas like mandatory national service, and enforcing filial responsibility laws. Learning to deal with the "intimacies" of "intergenerational responsibility" would be expected of all, including the childless; and individual "accomplishmet", outside of family commitment, would be viewed as "mental masturbation." These all address “natural obligations” that go beyond the use of choice and tend to require a measure of faith to accept the continuing inequities that follow. There is even the idea of “the privilege of being listened to” to throw into its crock pot.

Never take your rights for granted. Never overlook the hidden sacrifices of others.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colleges deal with sexuality and privacy issues for roommates (remember DADT?)


I’ve talked about college roommate issues here before (particularly on a posting Nov. 28, 2006 on this blog), so it was interesting to me today to see, in the Metro Section of the Washington Post today, Sunday Oct. 18, the article by Daniel de Vise, “Colleges speaking up to protect shy ‘sexiles’”, link here. David Moreton's 1999 gay flick "Edge of 17" has a college campus dorm scene in which this happens, as I recall.

I was not aware it is socially acceptable now on many campuses for someone to ask a roommate to vacate the room for the sake of having a tryst (straight or gay, but the straight experiences are facilitated by co-ed living). But I found it particularly interesting, given my own history, that the College of William and Mary (in Williamsburg, VA) is discussed as having implemented some sensible roommate policies. Like on many older campuses, some of the dorm rooms are small.

In the aftermath of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (as debated and legislated in 1993), Northwestern University sociology professor Charles Moskos sometimes talked about gay issues on campus, and said that many universities did well to make sure that gay students had gay roommates (that is, that straight men did not have gay roommates). But since 1993, the thinking on this sort of thing, as to “privacy”, has changed, both in and outside the military, and on campuses, thankfully.

Friday, October 16, 2009

GWU Hospital fires rabbi counselor for violating patient privacy rules on blog posting: another example for bloggers to heed!


A female rabbi at George Washington University Hospital in Washington DC was suspended and then fired a few weeks after she wrote about her interaction with a victim of the Holocaust Museum shooting in Washington DC. The rabbi, Tamara Miller (Director of Spiritual Care, George Washington University Hospital), had comforted the family of security guard Stephen T. Johns as he died from the wounds.

The main story by Jacqueline L. Salmon appears in the Washington Post today Oct. 16, link here.

Here comments had been posted in the Washington Post’s blog called “Guest Voices: Other views on faith and its impact on the news” with a title of “Holocaust comes to the ER”, with the article linked in the news story above.

Some of Tamara’s blog entry is quite personal. “I am a first-generation American Jew whose parents and grandparents left Europe before the war that destroyed six million from my historical and biological family tree,” she writes. And the comments about the patient were very general indeed.

Miller, in fact, says that she did not disclose anything that had not been already published widely in the media. But the hospital says she violated HIPAA and hospital policy by saying anything at all.

Some of the charges made by the hospital include “talking to the media” without permission. Hers was not a personal blog. So the punishment is something like what could follow an “improper” letter to an editor of a newspaper; this could have happened in the days before the Internet.

But the incident backs up what was said at Potomac Tech Wire Wednesday: hospital or medical employees (as with employees in other fields like finance and the military) must be very careful about what they say in blogs and should never identify people, even indirectly, without permission.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

FTC issues formal rule regarding blogger "endorsements"


The Federal Trade Commission, on Oct. 5, 2009, published its rule regarding “endorsements” of products or services by bloggers. The title of the press release is "FTC Publishes Final Guides Governing Endorsements, Testimonials: Changes Affect Testimonial Advertisements, Bloggers, Celebrity Endorsements."

The link is here. And the most important paragraph seems to be this one (quoted as public domain):

“The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.”

Let me reiterate that I do not get paid by anyone for the reviews of movies, books, television shows, or commentary on other matters on any of these blogs. In July 2007, I did receive an unsolicited free DVD from Shell and reviewed its short film “Eureka” and that fact is disclosed on that blog posting (Movie blog, July 10, 2007). In the future, I will be willing and happy to review sample products, books or films sent to me free; but if I do so, I must disclose in the blog review that I received the material "in kind" for free.

The “Mashable Social Media Guide” has an article on the matter by Adam Ostrow, Oct. 5, 2009, “FTC to Fine Bloggers Up to $11000 for Not Disclosing Payments”.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Potomac Tech Wire holds Social Media Outlook breakfast at Tysons Corner VA today


Potomac Tech Wire (link) held its Social Media Outlook breakfast seminar this morning, Oct. 14, 2009, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tysons Corner, VA.


First, however, there was an amusing sideshow. The huge ballroom was partitioned, and next door there was a “5th Annual Federal M&A Outlook”. Somehow I and a few others got directed into there, where there was only a continental breakfast, but the discussions, about acquiring tech companies, sounded like they belonged in our seminar. It wasn’t until the discussions moved to the credit markets, TARP, bailouts, etc. that I looked at the brochure and realized, well, I had the wrong breakfast. So I had a freebie on the Ritz. I found the right room.

The panelists included Robit Bhargava, founder of the 360 Digital Group at Oglivy; Shonali Burke, Adam Lehman, at Lotame; Goeff Livingston, at SVT and author of “Now Is Gone”; and Jake Mass, at Living Sherman; and Paul Sherman of Potomac Tech Wire.

Early discussion were upbeat. There was description of SusTech (link “Every answer has a problem”) and its professional social networking on SharePoint (link) as giving the ability to automate postings on multiple sites .

Conversely, the idea of using Facebook apps as a way to manage one’s experience with other major sites was discussed, as many commercial sites now have handles with Facebook and Twitter (not so much Myspace). But some celebrities have major presence on both Myspace and Facebook. (Look at Ashton Kutcher’s blog on volunteerism here).

The recent controversy, often mentioned by the President, over the relatively poor performance of the US in bandwidth capacity compared to Japan and South Korea, was mentioned as a cause for the slow development of virtual reality on the Web. (Remember those complete bodysuits for VR shown in Omni Magazine in the 1990s?)

The practice of "curator journalism" was mentioned. That term sometimes refers to news aggregation on sites like Mixx, or on blogs like mine, where many stories are presented with the writer adding commentary to "connect the dots."

The recent implementation of FTC rules to require bloggers receiving "payola" payments from companies to disclose these payments or face bank audits and fines was mentioned; in the UK, bloggers violating this rule can actually go to jail.

But the “nebulosity” of privacy was mentioned as a future major problem for the Web. There is a concern that the legal environment (such as pressures to weaken Section 230 protections) could undermine the business models of all but the largest social media and publishing services, giving the companies that remain arbitrary power over users (with the way they administer anti-spam policies, for example). Privacy was discussed as a growing concern in certain blog areas like medicine or nursing, and finance. For example, blogs about medical cases should never mention individual patients by name (or identifiable traits) without permission, and HIPAA rules might come into play. Amateurs blogging about these areas might unwittingly mention or refer to other patients, violating privacy law. The risks to privacy become existential and prospective, as discussed on the floor after I asked a question (which also mentioned "reputation defense").

One speaker downplayed the importance of search engines in looking at this issue, and said that you should never put anything on the Internet even under privacy settings that would invade privacy or be libelous, because so much "cutting and pasting" occurs. I think we need a new term besides "publication" (which means communication to at least one person who understands the communication, as in e-mails) to "open publication" (which means any one in the general public can see it without identification, a concept which includes most material available to search engines.

In the private networking after the presentations, there was mention of the way the Internet had made the military's "don't ask don't tell" regarding gays unworkable. Nobody understood the public search engine in 1993.

As the cars piled up to exit the Ritz Carlton parking garage, I could hear WETA's playing Schubert's "Little C Major" (Symohony 6,, not so "little") on some car radios; a bumpkin-like, festive conclusion to the event.



At the end of the session, the hotel brought me the “right”, stick-to-the-ribs bacon and eggs breakfast.

Visitors can check out the “Final Blog Potomac” event here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Family Circle article hits online reputation problem on head: kids can hurt their parents' reputations without realizing it


The October 17, 2009 issue of Family Circle has an excellent article by Pamela Kramer, “Share Tactics”, on p. 74. I’m not able to find the article online yet.

The article discusses the practical dangers that families can face because of kids’ disclosures online, particularly on social networking sites and now through Twitter. The article does mention the role of search engines in the issue, along as the possibility of submitting deletions of search results (through submitting deletion requests) such as is done by services like Reputation Defender.

But the most important point is that information spreads by happenstance acquaintance or “coincidence” much more often than people realize. Therefore, it can be dangerous for a kid, in good faith, to disclose that one of his parents is looking for another job. Even when names and addresses are not identified, circumstances identify a person or family more easily than one thinks; and there are plenty of databrokers willing to sell supposedly unlisted information about families or people tentatively identified.

Kramer hits the nail on the head with this core explanation. Kids “have grown up with a culture of online sharing…Sound counterintuitive? Not to them: opening up to others—even if it’s not through face-to-face interaction—creates a feeling of closeness. But what kids don’t consider is your standard of privacy.” Got it. Parents are likely to live in a world that is more sensitive to family-centered or group-centered “reputation” than kids do; many jobs, especially in sales, for example, are very “reputation sensitive.” Yet, the software companies that run these sites were often designed by older teens and young adults who happened to live in an individualistic culture not as sensitive to “accidental reputation” as “the real world” is. I suspect that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is surprised, in retrospect, how much social controversy (as with employer “background checks”) his innovation created.

Social culture, and the varying perceptions of the “meaning” of family responsibility, as noted on previous posts, seems to live at the existential heart of this problem. Posts seen as political irony by a speaker might be taken as contempt or troublemaking by readers in more "collective" cultures.

For now, I have to recommend going out an purchasing a hardcopy of this Family Circle issue, which belongs to Parents Mag.

VideoJug publishes a survey of bloggers and their "business models"


I came across a survey run by Videojug of bloggers, analyzing how much bloggers spend, how many accept ads and how much they make if they do, the topics covered, and the reasons they started blogging, as well as the length of time they have blogged. The survey description and results (including a link to a PDF of the survey questions and bar graphs of the results [sorry, no pie charts to please Jake Gyllenhaal!]) is here.

The website Videojug has videos on many topics, such as this one on how to play the piano. It mentions the idea that the pianist can see the keys (in a concert, not really), compare to the inability of wind players to see their notes.

Piano:
Piano Basics

Monday, October 12, 2009

FTC primed to investigate "mainstream" bloggers for hidden payola; a call for "supervision"?


The Washington Times ran an important editorial Friday Oct. 9, “America’s Internet Police: The FTC gets ready to investigate bloggers”, link here. The editorial focuses on the announced intention of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate bloggers who receive hidden payments to promote products or services. The editorial points out that, the more “mainstream” a blogger is (whatever that itself means!), the more likely the FTC will “investigate”, rather like a friendly neighborhood cat looking around a house’s foundation for mice. That sounds more like the corporate-like blogs, but it seems that users of Blogger and Wordpress (who do include corporations and even movie distributors) and even Twitter are not “immune”. (Okay, everybody knows that Ashton Kutcher’s tweets are strictly his own.)

I can imagine another economic artifact of the "payola" issue, in reverse. That is, a blogger might, for commentary purposes only, discuss a product and give it "free" publicity, something that the company would have to pay for with established media companies. In a sense, the little guy could lowball the advertising of the big guys, raising business model questions. I wrote (on my net neutrality blog (Aug. 9, 2009, link) about Jupiter Jack and actually got a call from a consumer who thought it was endorsement; it was not, it was just commentary of my own.

The Times editorial speaks in the subjunctive about the idea that (some) bloggers might need (federal) “supervision”. True, that takes on a laughably unmanageable order, but it raises another red flag in my own mind: how you deal with the “systemic risk” that the lack of third-party supervision supposedly entails. Think how this idea already plays out in the health care and financial regulation debates. That’s why I’ve wondered about the possibility of mandatory insurance for bloggers at some point in the future.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How men become socialized by the family: the response of hyper-individualism


Last night, President Barack Obama, in his speech at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, referred to “old arguments” made by otherwise “good people” to deny people their individual and equal rights. It struck me that he was talking as much about the “existential” side of “homophobia” as the usually religious.

Let’s walk the walk again. Here’s how “their” thinking goes. The parents pressure the children, especially boys, to develop preferential attachment to others in the family and imagine the permanence of the Family (through generations) as something that transcends the self or the individual. Then as young men they imagine the value of raising their own children and of valuing the mothers of their children in a sexually committed manner – hence, the “no sex outside of marriage” standard, and the possibility of a silent double standard (“don’t ask don’t tell” for straight men). Then, once the young men have their own families, they place a lot of importance on the social supports and on commanding the loyalty of others.

The process can go off-track. Men are expected to compete with one another to show that they are "worthy" of having their own families, so some men may want to drop out of the process and migrate to a different world, a psychological "another planet". There's a contradiction between relating to "people as people" (my father's phrase) and a competitive system that values some people more than others (as during the Vietnam era draft with its deferments).

Here, remember, we’ve noted that human beings are both lions and tigers: they can be social creatures or solitary. The social side comes from the enormous veneration that is given to heads of families and to the fact that many “patriarchs” become conditioned to expect such loyalty (like the character Stefano in “Days of our Lives”). This social arrangement accepts that individually people are indeed quite unequal, and it is the duty of stronger family members to protect the less strong, a kind of internally Marxist arrangement. “Social justice” then is seen in macro-political terms (as with the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians); it is not the proper forum for individual action. It’s easy to see how this degenerates into tribalism. Gay men may have developed differently because they did not "compete" well as boys (that was my situation); or maybe they did compete well but are not emotionally wired to connect social domination of others with sexuality (hence they are wired more like tigers than lions, animals which are biologically almost identical).

Then comes the individual side, which proposes absolute equality before the law of individuals (not families or other groups). Hyperindividualism promotes individual sovereignty, and absolute personal accountability for the self, in objectivist terms, with no excuses. Therefore the less capable can be left behind, as their own families will be less likely to protect them. Big government programs might come in and provide the safety net, which is one reason why some social conservatives want to push a “mom and pop manifesto”. In a sense, hyperindividualism promotes waving the concept of "second class citizen" at the individual level, whereas in the past (where families watched their own backs) it was applied just to whole groups of people (as by race). But, of course we can extend the "evaluatory" measures behind individualism beyond market economics, and expect everyone to “pay their dues”, provide service and even prove that they can support others besides themselves. We then come full circle.

By the way, I do like cats!

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Don't go there!"


There is something (“etwas”) that comes up that gets very upsetting to me: some people “demand” attention and emotional attachment or connectivity that I don’t want to give them and refuse. (For example, this kind of thing came up in some substitute teaching situations, as well as some bizarre job “offers”, involving "role playing"
as a virtual husband and father, which I am not, to placate others). Any one has a right to refuse unwanted intimacy , right? I face “rejection” all the time. Deal with it. But they call it “contempt” or at least “lack of compassion”.

My usual answer to behavior like this is “Don’t go there.” (Conservatives, especially partisan Republicans, love that phrase.) I know, it sounds a little bit like the equivalent (in what the Army used to call “social graces”) of “don’t ask don’t tell.” Libertarians call the concept “harmlessness.” If you don’t like something, don’t buy it, stay away from it. That’s how civil society works.

I know, though, that particularly in an Internet age it is not so simple. Self-publication invokes social networking, and the converse is true: social networking involves publication, self-broadcast. Others learn by what you say online and the way you live your life for decades how you are inside. Patterns show up. I know, I like to reduce everything to “karma” and attach a moral measurement to everything about a person. New Age beliefs can impart its own kind of “fundamentalism” (and maybe I become “The Fundamentalist” as if a movie could be titled that). So, someone challenges me to come back to the group and share affection and attention, and then they whine (and insinuate some pretty bad things about my own outlook) when I do not. I say, they are trying to get me to give up my "values" and fight for and "sell" their agendas (the "we give you the words" thing). Then, they say, the abstraction of my speech is a veneer for disdain that must live inside a personal fantasy world. And I come back and say, “you didn’t have to go there.” Maybe they think I tricked them into trying.

I do get it, why some people want to see the world become a much more sociable place, and why some, like Carlson and Longman, argue that people need to see things in terms of “families” rather than individuals. At least, that provides a local structure for compassion and sharing, outside of a competitive system that seems so obsessed with measuring and FICO-scoring people (as if FICO were a numerical grade corresponding to “karma”).

Nevertheless, over a few decades, we shifted toward individualism and personal autonomy. It’s an approach that can leave people behind, leaving us to debate the ethics of “sacrifice” (previous post). It offered previously less adapted people (me) great opportunities, and it seems that these opportunities (like the Internet) full circle. For example, we’re starting to see “online reputation” develop as a tool to encourage social conformity, socialization, even a commitment to geneartivity. Things do come full circle.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

When I was growing up, the sharing of "sacrifice" was the central moral issue


On a cool March morning at Ft. Jackson, S.C. in 1968, I lay, low-crawl position, to the left of my “buddy” who fired rounds from his M-14 on the 25-meter range. I had just fired a series myself, and done OK. But when I was “coaching”, rounds from the next “couple”, a few feet to my right, blasted at my right ear, through the inadequate soft plastic Army issue earplugs. (Later I would learn you could buy better plugs at the PX).

From that moment on, I would have some lifelong tinnitus in my right ear. Later on, audiometer tests would show some hearing loss at the 4000 CPs area, critical for musicians. It may not have helped that I was already coming down with the 1968 flu that day. I would soon be recycled into “special training”) the Army’s equivalent of “special education”) because of my poor performance on the first PCPT (Physical Combat Proficiency Test). I had made a 190; I would eventually graduate from Basic with a fair score of 385.

Although it may sound trivial in the grand scheme of things, my hearing loss would amount to my “sacrifice.” I would, as 24-year old with an MA in Mathematics, be treated with kid gloves, and kept stateside for the rest of my term with the draft. College grads with degrees in math and science were generally treated better by the military during the Vietnam era (post-Sputnik); at the time, we were at the end of the era of student deferments. The whole system of deferments (that at one time would have deferred married men and “Kennedy fathers”) presumed that some men’s lives were more “valuable” than others, a post-Fascist notion that we had won a war to defeat and faced again (in a kind of opposition) in a Cold War; yet we were guilty of the same moral sins.

I note the hearing loss in another context. I would still enjoy classical music (records and CD’s) as an adult gay man. However, because of the values of the times I grew up in and because of my poor performance in “gender-related” areas as a boy, I lost the opportunity for a career that I think I would have worked hard at and would have succeeded in. I see others succeed today, in a better, if still unstable, world.

But all this followed on the heels of my earlier upbringing. I had somehow missed the “hidden curriculum”. To wit: although we were supposed to be a free country and supposed to value individual talent and ability, there were areas of life that belonged, almost through emotional expropriation (so it seemed to me) to family and community. It was that “women and children first” thing, a world that had just met Betty Friedan. It was a world in which the way (not quite voluntary) sacrifice was shared was viewed as the central moral problem—remember Ross Perot’s call for “shared sacrifice” in the 1992 campaign (or for that matter similar calls from Jimmy Carter). Life was not always about “you”. The New Testament and Gospel had to deal with these paradoxes, about how we only have freedom if we can sometimes walk in the shoes of the least among us, and at least all take our turns at service.

I do understand where people who advocate “the natural family” or the idea that family, rather than the individual, must become the granularity of freedom, are coming from. That was how it was a half-century ago, before people could question how easily such a system could be abused by those in charge. Now the tables are turned; abuse can come from those who claim they have nothing to lose. These are strange days.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Copyright infringement: is it illegal to download if you don't upload?


Nate Anderson has a common-sense article on Ars Technica, “Is it legal to download music if you don’t upload”?, link here.

In general the answer is “No”, except in limited situations that are well known from analogies to the “real world”, such as a teacher making copies or excerpts for classes. But most of the attention in the epidemic of RIAA lawsuits against home users (and their parents or unsuspecting family members) was indeed for uploading on P2P nodes, because that was much easier to detect.

In Canada, as Nate suggests, the law is structured in such a way that it may often be legal.

But, as William Patry pointed out in his book “Copyright Wars” (my books blog), the real problem is business model. Large media corporations and established artists believe they have an interest in protecting old models. Young artists, on the other hand, are often eager to let users freely sample their work on YouTube or on their own websites and very professional looking blogs (composer-pianist Timothy Andres comes to mind).

My perspective now turns on my own experience over the years collecting classical LP vinyl records and then CD’s. Classical music, since the market is presumably smaller, would need to think carefully about its model; but it makes sense to offer recordings (particularly of lesser-known works) in reasonably priced downloads and videos, either for single viewing or copy ownership, and count on goodwill of customers who want to see the industry able to support itself. That good will held together reasonably well in past decades; people who may have taped other people’s records (when they were $5.98 each) often bought many records of their own (although at sales). A well thought-out model would certainly serve the interests of younger or emerging artists. The same goes for film.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Landlords may have to scope tenants for smoking; what next?


Here’s a good one: “Condo leakage: no smoking in your own apartment,” in a whimsical article by Saletan on Slate.com Oct. 2, (link).

There is a lawsuit in Texas against an ex-neighbor and landlord for second hand smoke that somehow came from a neighboring apartment, (story by Scott Farwell in the Dallas Morning News), another in a New York City condo, and a couple years ago Belmont CA outlawed smoking in apartments with shared ceilings or walls.

Will landlords have to start banning smokers or checking perspective tenants through b.i. services for cigarette smoking? How far can this kind of thing go?

Monday, October 05, 2009

NYC arrest suggests that Twitter and similar tools can get you arrested if you disrupt law enforcement; how about TXTmob?


Colin Moynihan has a curious story on p A18 of the Oct. 5 New York Times, “Arrest of Queens Man Puts Focus on Protesters’ Text-Messaging Habits,” link here. A man, Elliot Madison, was recently arrested in Pittsburgh and charged with “hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility, and possession of instruments of crime” with his tweets. Apparently it is a crime to interfere with a police investigation sending messages (as with Twitter or even IM’s) that tip off people (perhaps political dissidents) as to the whereabouts of police, and New York City attempted to subpoena information about this application from its innovator.

The article mentions an application called TXTmob (link at Source Forge), which was used to disseminate mass messages to potential protestors at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Parabe of the Workers in the Vineyard (in October!)


Today, Sunday Oct. 4, 2009 at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, rev. Bernard Nord preached a sermon “Table Graces” motivated by the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16, where the landowner pays the workers whom he hired at the end of the day as much as those who had worked all day. “No fair.”

The parable expresses a particular “libertarian paradox” inasmuch as the owner says that because of his property rights he can pay his workers as he likes (and violate the usually reliable libertarian notion that people should be paid more or less for the results they get). The property rights are somehow natural fundamental rights (unlike copyright, which leads to another discussion). Yet, rather like “The Donald Trump”, the owner brandishes his rights to say, “hey, life’s unfair. It isn’t about justice after all.”

Yup, we said, “it’s about living in a community.” As Michael Moore points out in his recent documentary, the Gospel commands us to take care of the least among us as we take care of ourselves. The first become last, the last become first. And so it may be in the “next world.”

Yet, when I was growing up, it seemed that the heart of moral thinking seemed to deal with the reality that people, by being different, will in some sense be unequal, both in the need for social (and sometimes sexual) complementarity, and in the need to recognize that in larger areas there will always be gross inequities in both total ability and in inherited circumstances, that “initial place in line”. We see this problem everywhere in history, ranging from how we picked people to be drafted in the past, to affirmative action, to cultural conflicts and resource use differences between the childless and people with families, to (in modern terms) equal rights for women and gays. Sometimes authoritarian (or totalitarian) societies make much of this, making every individual prove his worthiness somehow, often to an ideal set up by the state.

No wonder, then, that Christian grace is about something much deeper than justice as we usually perceive it, even if it sometimes makes deeper justice possible. If everything had to be perfectly just, there could be no real freedom.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Bizarre Letterman case brings up "fiction in screenplays" and blogs issue


Here’s an interesting sidekick to my “fiction in blogs” problem. Remember how I got in trouble as a substitute teacher of a fiction screenplay I had posted on my own domain (July 27, 2007 posting here). Lightning has struck twice.

The bizarre blackmail attempt against David Letterman by Robert Halderman, indicted in New York yesterday, included a screenplay treatment that apparently depicted elements of Letterman’s life (likely untrue and fictitious). ABC News has a detailed story by Emily Friedman, Kate McCarthy and Richard Esposito here. There are many other accounts of the Letterman matter (and his "Worldwide Pants" company) in the major media outlets now.

In retrospect, I can somewhat understand the thinking of the high school administration back in 2005. They see my mentioning my domain to a staff member (even though I didn’t mention my screenplay explicitly) as like an “antiselection” problem; the fact that I would mention it (even though I thought I was doing so in reference to a genuine political issue, which at the time was campaign finance reform and bloggers) as evidentiary that the “fiction” in the screenplay (which they had found with search engines) could really happen. That’s rather like the reasoning of the “rebuttable presumption” clause of the notorious “don’t ask don’t tell” policy in the military.

The facts in the Letterman case (which he made light of on his show) are a bit complicated. But I can understand that the legal world does not always take lightly documents purported to be fictitious if the surrounding circumstances seem to suggest a threat. That could even be said of Cho’s “screenplays” in the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007.

Update: Oct. 12

On ABC's Good Morning America, an attorney pointed out that there is nothing wrong with submitting a screenplay or book proposal that exposes someone (or seems, in the case of "fiction", to expose someone). But it is illegal to tell the target you will keep quiet if he pays you off; that's extortion or blackmail.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Newsweek op-ed says, let the newspapers die: well, not so fast


In the “Tectonic Shifts” feature column in Newsweek, Daniel Lyons has a cutting piece “Don’t bail out newspapers: let them die and get out of the way.”

He has a lot of confidence in getting news on the go on your iPhone or Blackberry, from the most minimalist of sources (even it is about the lives of celebrities like Ashton Kutcher), and I think he probably thinks the model I have for these blogs, and for a number of other news commentary blogs out there will be the way to go – except that we need to find convincing ways to monetize our innovations.

Remember, though, I (as do other bloggers) often depend on “establishment” stories as starting points. We compile and cross reference original material, gathered from “professional sources”, in novel ways to provide attention-getting perspectives. But we can’t replace the newspaper and media companies. We depend on them. So we don’t throw established reporters out of work; we may provide the reason to hire more of them. That’s what “creative destruction” means.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Do people need a belief in "moral absolutes" to enjoy intimacy in the long term?


One of the most subtle psychological experiences I notice with myself and others is the need to believe that one’s life expresses some set of principles, and to believe that these principles operate on others. I can understand why human culture sometimes finds that it wants to believe in “moral absolutes.”

The most obvious place that I think we see this is with traditional marriage. Many couples, over time, tend to find that their interest in the marriage depends on the belief that it is morally necessary and that family members will remain loyal to them as parents. Parents believe that their children should remain preferential loyalty to their own families even as adults, and should not apply the individualistic standards of the outside world in dealing with family members. The family is a bit like a mini “Marxist state” where the “to each according to his need” applies. In this view, adult children gain full public credibility as adults only when they marry and have (or sometimes adopt) children themselves. This gets to be viewed as a “morally absolute” system which used to be enforced in part by “no sex outside of marriage” rules, sodomy laws, and “homophobia.” This view was advanced by Allan Carlson and Paul Mero in their recent “The Natural Family: A Manifesto” and matches pro-natalist views of Phillip Longman (“The Empty Cradle”) who advocates rewriting the “social contract” to make everyone share family responsibility, even when they have no children of their own. (We actually have mechanics, largely unused, in our system that would do this: they’re filial responsibility laws in 28 states.) In a "mandatory insurance" family system, legitimate parents can say even to their adult children something like, "in an unstable world, you owe some of what you have to us and you must share it with your family as we say." This attitude accounts for the tendency, especially in previous generations, for parents to insist that their children master common skills appropriate for their biological genders regardless of individual talents: it was for the good of others in the family and community and not just for "you". The demographics of eldercare may bring this view back.

It’s obvious how such a system gets abused: look at racism, organized crime, the Taliban, and most fundamentalist religion (Christian, Jewish or Muslin, it makes no difference).

After the 1960s, things gradually changed, and we migrated more to a system of almost hyper-individualism, where individual adults are seen as “on their own” for life. Everyone is judged the same way, although we could construct an individualistic moral system with non-monetary components, expecting community or national or even military service and some ability that one can provide for others besides oneself, whether or not within the family, before one expects to occupy the limelight.

Individualism, especially within the gay community, prides itself with its focus on “best people” – that the objects of attention or adulation are “good” and or “worthy” as role models for the rest of us. There is communication or quasi-publication of “the knowledge of good and evil”. In past blogs, I’ve called this the “Existential Trap.” But the belief system, which feeds the excitement of some intimate encounters, presumes that there are inviolate personal standards of “good” and “not good” and rejoices in experiencing the encounter with “good”.

Fundamentalism can wear many hats. It can lead into unexpected places.

But at least we can understand also why socialization itself is controversial. Mammals vary in how much of it they set up: it’s the dogs (wolves) v cats, or lions v tigers problem. But a social unit accepts the biological reality that individuals are unequal, and that it is up to the social unit (the “family”) to give the less well-off meaning and safety. Animal societies don’t always do that, but it’s clear why the concept os so compelling to some people. This "moral" view of socialization helps explain the economic business models based on sales and personal manipulation instead of producing goods and content.