Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Social bookmarking" sites have raised copyright infringement claims, of which courts seem skeptical so far


It’s important to note a relatively recent decision regarding copyright, from August 2012, by Richard Posner in the Seventh Circuit.  Posner vacated a preliminary injunction against a “social bookmarking site” called myVidster (link), which had been sued by another site “Flava” (link and property identity not determined) for allowing users to go to the material on the site around the paywall.  The Thomson Reuters story link is here.
  
Posner reaffirmed that this sort of linking is a long way from filesharing or P2P and does not represent copyright infringement on its own, although there could be further issues if the defendant had actively encouraged infringement.
  
Most of the time when someone links to an article to a site behind a paywall, the paywall will still work and enforce the content owner’s payment intentions.  I don’t know why this is different.

The article suggests that paywall evasion issues leading to copyright infringement claims have occurred with porn or adult sites.  
  
I have discovered more concern in other articles about “framing” or “embed” links and will return to the subject soon.  This may become an active controversy again. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Remember how the Internet was in the mid 1990s?


Brad Plumer, of the Washington Post, provided an old video of what the Internet was like in 1995, narrated by Stewart Cheiffet, with New York Times reporter John Markoff, link here

The “Computer Chronicles” video, 25 minutes long, was sponsored by companies like HP and Harvard Software. 

Gee-whiz, Markoff showed us how the email program Eudora used to work!

He then showed us how to troll Usenet conferences, and how to use an early Mac program called “Anarchy” for software.

In 1995, companies like Compuserve, AOL and Prodigy dominated the home experience, with a lot of proprietary content.  It wasn’t until some time in 1996 that AOL started shifting toward being a direct interface to HTML< and it didn’t have a usable personal publisher until the fall of 1996.  Then it was called “Hometown AOL”, which was terminated in 2007 (and users allowed to transport to Blogger). In those days, you could have one AOL site per user name.  Personal computers sold around 1993 (like the PS-1) came with AOL and Prodigy. I did not start using email (AOL) until August 1994.

Nevertheless, by 1995 companies were starting to set up conventional corporate sites, but search engine practices weren’t really well developed until late 1997.

The video does pose some beginning questions about security, and early questions about caution in posting on the Internet.  But one grasped how controversial reputation and identity security problems would get after the year 2000.  
  
I remember learning about the Oklahoma City bombing on AOL before I saw it on the television news.
When my employer was bought in a friendly acquisition in late 1994, employees followed the news feeds on Compuserve.

Friday, March 29, 2013

DMCA takedown requests can be done in "do it yourself" mode


It should come as no surprise that there exist websites which offer to do quick and inexpensive DMCA takedowns upon allegations that content was stolen.  I found out about this from an auto-served advertisement while surfing this morning on my iPad (no doubt chosen on the basis of “tracking” the subject matter of my online research). 
   
A typical service is at “DMCA”, simply called “takedowns”, here

You can see the inexpensive monthly subscription and rather “reasonable” price per request, compared to what lawyers charge.
   
A similar service is “Fastdmca” here
  
The first site has a green rating from McAfee; the second had not been tested.

The obvious risk is that these services could facilitate frivolous or unfounded complaints. 
  
Here is a video on the “frivolous” complaint problem, from the Venus Project (and “Storm Clouds Gathering).  Filing a false complaint to silence dissent or reporting is illegal, according to the video.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Bachelor" spoiler publisher sued; can plots (or "endings") be copyrighted?


It is possible to sue someone successfully for publishing a “spoiler”, according to litigation that has resulted around the ABC show “The Bachelor”  
  
The Bachelor production companies have litigated successfully against Steve Carbone and the “Reality Steve” website  (link) for publishing spoilers as to the outcome of Sean Lowe’s episodes (leading to eventual wedding choice).  This was actually the second settlement, and the defendant was accused of violating the first agreement.
   
The MSN story by Tim Kinneallly is here. It wasn’t clear how he got the spoilers.  In another incident, an actress extra was fired for divulging spoilers of an upcoming television show. 

The litigation could raise a question of whether a blogger could be liable for movie (or television miniseries) spoilers.  There could be a question if the blogger saw the movie in advance, or at a film festival, or before it could be accessed by the general public. Once a film has been released the question seems to be less important, although many people do wait to see films and the issue seems more important for multiplex “family films” than more political or esoteric fare. 

Spoilers are often identified on imdb a short time after a film is available and are often found in plot synopses on Wikipedia.  Many variations of the question could come up.  What if a novel is adapted for a movie but “changes” the ending?

There is another question because sometimes movie plots are associated with political issues that deserve discussion.  (How about the “explanation” of the 15-year power blackout in “Revolution”?  Could it really happen, like an EMP blast?) 
  
Can plots be protected by copyright?  Not just general concepts, but perhaps details of stories and characters can.  Scott Hervey on Weintraub and Tobin has a piece “The complexity of proving copyright infringement”, discussing “Six Feet Under” and :The Funk Parlor”, here

Chilling Effects has an FAQ answer suggesting that  a plot synopsis is not always fair use, if its disclosure could seriously affect the market for the book or film (link ).  probably a stretch in credibility in most cases.  Another site, by Justine Larbaleister, throws cold water on the idea that a writer or studio can protect a plot alone by copyright, here

I am the sort of person who hardly cares if he knows “who did it” before going to a movie or play (in fact, with some plays, like “Shear Madness”, the audience chooses).  I guess I don’t care if I know that “John dies at the end”.  But I can tell, from remarks I read online at movie review sites, that some people do care if they know. 

There was a spoiler incident with "Breaking Bad” on ABC:  Bryan Branston had his plot and script (on  iPad) stolen from his car!  “The Avengers” also had an incident. 


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Georgia court ignores Section 230 in restraining order regarding "poet" copyright troll; complicated situation, covers many bases


A state superior court in Georgia has ignored Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and commanded, through a restraining order, that a discussion forum Matthew Chan remove a board allowing criticism of alleged copyright troll (and, ironically, poet) Linda Ellis. 
  
The board apparently had appeared on a website called “Extortion Letters”, link , which would provide information on shakedown copyright trolls. 
  
However, some of the reasoning of the order is apparently based on possible threats to the safety of the subject of the forum.  The judge wrote that the moderator had the ability to remove dangerous content from the boards and did not do so.  That would seem to contradict the provisions of Section 230, although it can get tricky if it involves content that is illegal for some reason other than libel.  There is an issue of a “true threat test”, which I haven’t considered here before as far as I can tell.  For example, if someone made a direct “threat” in a blog posting comment on my blog, I might catch it in moderation and delete it, but if I posted it, could I be legally compelled to remove it?  Maybe.  I hadn’t thought about that specific possibility before.  (I have worked with law enforcement in the past over specific information that I have received, though;  journalist privilege might also come into play.) 
  
Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story and op-ed about the situation here and tweeted it today, saying that it threatens message boards (and maybe blogs) everywhere.  EFF expects the Georgia Court of Appeals to uphold federal law and overturn the order. Eff discusses the “true threat test” and forum moderation issues in the article (and some of these same points would logically apply to Blogger and Wordpress).
  
EFF posted a typical “demand” letter from Ellis by “Turnaround Schools” here
  
It also linked to a about the copyright infringement letter  concerning “the Dash Poem” from April Brown, about a family that had put the poem in a funeral tribute on a blog, link here. There is some discussion here about the material churches and Christian organizations can use in publications, and there is indeed very strict copyright control in the church hymnal  (both music and words) and liturgy world of what is published for congregations to use;  I have seen this in practice in my own dealings with many churches which I have attended.
  
It seems that blogs that post this poem literally  face “Righthaven-like” response.    I’ll decline. 
     
But I can’t imagine posting something cute that people will use and going after them.  One time I composed and published a joke ditty “Heterosexuality is incompatible with military service” to make fun of the Pentagon’s infamous “123 words” from 1981.  The idea of going after people who copy it would just be beyond comprehension.  But there are people who do this.   To me, the value of letting people circulate a piece like this free (and the political effect it has) is worth a lot more than “monetizing” it.  Yet, I get complaints from people who say they can’t make money working with me, and that I live in a dream world because I don’t raise a family and don’t have to hucksterize!  (This even happened yesterday.)  Figure this out!!
  
Are we in a hyper-competitive, individualistic world where a lot of people can’t make a living (or raise kids)  without some sort of scamming or coercion? 
  
Here’s Matthew Chan’s video on extortion letters.   They seem to be "common".  Maybe some of the letters he has gotten calls about were from Righthaven.  
  

This is the first case I am aware of where Section 230 and copyright issues (usually separate) occur together. 

For the record, the picture is mine, downtown Atlanta, 2004 (I needed my own photo from Georgia for this posting). It's Braves Country.  



Update: March 27, 2013

Timothy B. Lee has a more detailed story on Ars Technica, discussing the nature of Chan's own posts and those of some of the forum contributors.  Chan could be held responsible for damaging aspects of his own posts but not for others whom he allows to post on his blog.  Apparently posts from both Chan and at least some forum contributors contained language that could be construed as of a threatening nature.  The link to the new story is here. The title is telling: "'I made some stupid posts'.  Anti-troll site gadded after threats against poet".

This article appears in the "Law & Disorder" and "Civilzation & Discontent" column at Ars. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday: Would Jesus support modern individualism?


I often do wonder if Jesus would have sanctioned modern individualism.  And I think the answer is generally no, not as it has evolved in “classical liberalism”.

The most telling parables in the New Testament emphasize personal humility, avoiding personal judgments, and empathy with the poor and unfortunate.  Modern individualism stresses meritocracy and personal responsibility to an extent greater than that which the Gospels seem to view as realistic.

Some of the most telling anecdotes and parables include the “Rich Young Ruler” and the “Parable of the Talents”.  There is a certain stress on a readiness to make enormous or existential sacrifices for others if called upon to do so. There is a notion (as in the parable of the Vineyards) to consider real needs when compensating people. There is also the notion that some people are “given” more than others but that more is expected of them.  Many of these seem to confound our modern ideas of “equality.”

The Gospels seem to take the advantage that the “poor” will always be around because civilization inherently involves a lot of luck and misfortune.  It isn’t possible for anyone to be entirely “self-made” without depending on unseen sacrifices from others. (For example, the “Left” loves to point out our dependence on low-wage dormitory workers in China.)   Consistent failure of most people to take this into account increases social tension and instability, and can lead to breakdown and wars.

I think it is a bit presumptuous in the “Rich Young Ruler” story for Jesus to say, give up everything and “follow me”.  I chuckle a little bit.  The way he is usually presented, Jesus would have looked like a young adult (that is, mid 30s or so) physically fit male, considered “desirable” in the gay world.  (Actor Bradley Cooper, although he is straight, is about the closest match to the image that I can think of.)  “Following” anyone around sometimes sounds like stalking in our culture.  Isn’t it better to make yourself first, have your own world, prove your independence?  That’s usually seen as mentally healthful in our culture.  But the New Testament seems to deny it.  And lack of interdependence means dangerous social isolation, and maybe social instability later.

These stories put that individual who is "different" in an interesting and perhaps controversial or precarious position.  You can't "shine" using your own gifts without "taking advantage" of the labor and sometimes sacrifice (not so willing) of others.  Does that mean, to play fair, you have to submit to their demands when they catch you in your dependence on them? One can see the indignation that can result from various kinds of "unfairness", and it can blow up into a microcosm of "class warfare" that destroys the "rich ruler" sort of individual.  It becomes personal for someone in my "outside man" perch, demanding that I show the capacity to step up and respond when suddenly confronted with unexpected need -- a "solicitation" or "urgent asking" -- but "the right instance".    
    
Today, in the last Fellowship Hall service at the First Baptist Church of Washington DC (before moving back to the Sanctuary for Easter – with the new concert organ not quite ready yet), Dr. Haggray spoke about the hungry, the poor, and about humility – and then we learned of his resignation at the end of the service.  I won’t get further into that other than to report it.  (There was a “Blue Jeans Ball” to end hunger in Washington DC today, Palm Sunday, as reported by television station WJLA.)

The new Pope Francis will speak the same way about these matters.

What are the “treasures” in heaven?  I’ve ordered a couple of books (like “Proof of Heaven”) recently discussed on Katie Couric’s show.  I get the impression that “Heaven” is someone how a real place, with a geography, like another planet, maybe in another universe.   But I find some of this hard to accept.  How can a child struck down in infancy enjoy eternal life the way an adult is supposed to?  Doesn’t someone need the opportunity to live as an adult first?  What if that is taken away by a criminal?  Again, when I hear all this talk about victims, I want to say “Please”.
  
My grasp of physics sees life, reproduction and consciousness, even free will, as counters to entropy.  It seems to me that a person’s consciousness can’t disappear.  He or she at least knows the “truth” about the universe after passing and knows everyone else’s motives, just as others in his or her life know his own.  There is cross-consciousness and complete telepathy, almost like the biological Internet of Pandora on “Avatar”.  But to have more experience, he or she must be reborn, maybe on a different planet, maybe in much different circumstances.   Science and physics tell me that we are almost certainly “not” alone. 

Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of Keppler22B (earthlike planet), link here. Could this planet house "Heaven"?  (600 light years away, I think.)  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Debate on gay rights brings up workplace free speech "conflicts of interest"; Adria Richards firing also illustrates problem


A few years back, a manager of security at Allstate insurance was fired for writing and getting published, with his own personal resources, a column opposing gay marriage and apparently expressing his own religious views on homosexuality. 
   
The story by Ron Strom appears on Wind, June 24, 2005, link here
  
The story does illustrate an idea that I had circulated as early as 2000, that people with direct reports or who make decisions about others in the workplace (or underwriting decisions for insurance) should not publish their own views in public because that could imply discriminatory intent toward subordinates or customers (or help create “hostile workplace”).  That is to say, people who want to self-publish the way I do must remain “individual contributors” in the workplace (which I did for almost all my IT career).  Anything else would constitute “conflict of interest”. I actually got an email on this matter from someone at the Wall Street Journal in February 2002 (shortly after my own "career-ending" layoff).  
  
However, the landscape has changed because of social media (most of all Facebook and Twitter).  But it is possible to imagine an “employee blogging policy” that requires all self-published postings to be “whitelisted” (that is, restricted to “friends” in Facebook or “followers” in Twitter, a practice that many people follow for personal materials now, although this wasn’t possible or common in 2005). 
  
In 2007, the City of Oakland had ruled that employees could not post on a workplace bulletin board articles from “LifeSiteNews” that mentioned the terms “natural family” or “family values”.  “Natural family” has become a buzzword that some people associate with the notion that everyone (subjunctive) has a moral obligation to try to procreate by marrying and then having children if possible.   The link is here
  
These articles appear in a story opposing ENDA as harmful to the free market from Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, published on CNN as an “opposing viewpoint” op-ed on March 22, 2013, here.  I’ll say more about this on my LGBT blog today.   



Update: March 24, 2013

The saga of Adria Richards, who tweeted a photo of men who made apparently distasteful remarks ("big dongles") she heard at a developers' PyCon  conference, was fired by SendGrid.  One of the men was fired by PlayHaven.  But some attorneys say that employment law will work in her favor, as in this story in the San Jose Mercury News here.   Was Richards' tweet made in "public mode"? 

There is a similar report on Venture Beat, here

Friday, March 22, 2013

What do (and did) "you" want from me? Looking at a doppleganger.


To this day, four months from my seventieth birthday, I don’t know exactly what explains my physical backwardness and “weakness” as a youngster, a problem that would help shape my adult life and particularly my values.
  
Was it genetics?  Was it congenital?  Was it epigenetics?  I do think it was partly biological.  It seems related to my social backwardness and elements of autism or perhaps Asperger’s.  But when I grew up in the 1950s it tended to be viewed as a moral issue, as a kind of physical cowardice or laziness.
  
I thought I was reasonably well liked in first and second grades, but recall sudden pressure from a third grade teacher, Mrs. White (like in the Clue game) in the fall of 1951, to conform to the social and particularly physical expectations of boys of my age. 
  
I still have my old report cards, some of the narratives, and even the handwritten first grade reports in 1949-1950 show some concerns about doing things for myself. 
  
I would get my share of the teasing in grade school and particularly through junior high school (which in my day went through ninth grade).  It was not as severe as some of the bullying reported today.  But on a few isolated occasions (particularly one disturbing incident toward the end of ninth grade) I was capable of returning the insensitivity.

But the experience of being physically less competitive certainly helped shape my attitudes about what mattered in other people.  I tended toward upward affiliation, and to believe that capability (physical and mental, hopefully occurring together) was indicative of moral virtue, and that lack of “it” was due to moral failure.  So I developed an attitude that I could find no satisfaction or joy out of being associated with or connected to “the unworthy”.

I also contemplated thoughts, that if I was behind physically, it was probably best that I never have any children.

This may sound almost horrific today, personal eugenics.  Hadn’t we fought a world war about this in the 1940s, which we had won?  But strangely, this still seemed to constitute the social value system around me in the 1950s.  It helped shaped me.  The irony of it seemed exciting rather than wrong.

For reasons that I can’t explain, I suddenly knew I was interested in music and wanted to take piano in third grade.  We got a Kimball console piano (which I no longer have) in February 1952.  I started lessons. I remember the home salesman latter for the Sherwood Music School course program. 
  
I was quite good at it, earning awards for recitals and “festivals” over the next period of years.   And, although there was a dip in academics in third grade, maybe because of my poor relationship with this particularly hostile teacher, I had become a good student again by fifth grade, and was good enough to be valedictorian in high school. 

I have a feeling that the music and bookish stuff crowded out the normal neuromuscular development.  I had great difficulty learning even simple things, like riding a bicycle, or lighting matches safely.   Even so, with practice I developed some motor skills.  By eighth or ninth grade, I could hit a slow pitched softball respectably, although I couldn’t field or judge a fly ball.   I understood baseball and football at an intellectual level (particular all the strategies in baseball, of handedness, for example), just as I learned to play chess.  I had a fair understanding of the game (coordination of pieces, king safety) by high school.  Had I started much younger, maybe I could have become “really good”.

The crowding out of “normal” development might sound willful, or it might result from premature neural “pruning”, possibly influenced by epigenetics.  There is a pianist and composer, 40-plus years younger, who reports a similar history, but did not have the same physical issues (is avid in amateur bicycle riding, at least) and writes and thinks like “another me”.  All of this sounds like issues of development and pruning.  His brain handled the space or capacity requirements better than mine did.
  
All of this raises the question, what did others want from me?  That is, beyond the normal ability to provide for myself (which I did for all these decades of my I.T. career).  I think it was, to provide for others and to fit into some sort of family structure, where I would be capable of finding emotional satisfaction from a relationship with someone who “needed” me for adaptive (not just creativity or surplus-related) reasons.    That means, “loving” someone for who he or she is as a human being because he or she is “family”.  From this capacity, I suppose, people believe that the possibility of lifelong heterosexual marriage (with all of its sexual passion), capable of providing another generation of children (maybe even “another me”) would be possible.   Modern science doesn’t support that idea so much, but it does support the idea that a permanent relationship based on polarity (as opposed just to gender and reproductive function) is related to relearning constructive “affection” early in life in the family.  “Will and Sonny” can still come about.  

There are a couple of offshoots from the active heterosexual marriage model.  One idea is that the dedication to family is supposed to lead to an appropriate amount of involvement with helping others outside the family. That doesn't always happen, especially in "tribal" culture,  The other is that a desire for procreation gets seen as a prerequisite to membership in a possibly vulnerable social group. 
  
This aspect is very personal, but there is also a practical aspect.  Most older (tribal) societies needed to have almost all men capable of protecting and providing for the specific needs of women.  They see the "sissy boy syndrome" as a drag on the safety and cohesiveness of the community, in the face of collective challenges and enemies.  This got to be elaborated to requiring men (including more "marginal" boys) to join in collective pursuits to protect the community, as illustrated by the military draft or conscription.  In the Army, I got to see a few men who had some of the same problems I did, and probably “worse’, particularly my four weeks in Special Training Company in the spring of 1968 (at Fort Jackson, SC).   We had a system of student draft deferments then that implied that some lives were more "valuable than other.  Decades later, I would see some of the same thing as substitute teacher with (unselected) special education assignments.  It wasn’t a good place to be.
  
During my years dealing with my mother’s eldercare, I was indeed struck by how some people wee taken back by my emotional aloofness and lack of physical attentiveness.  This has to do, I thought, with choice.  I did not “create” a situation that would require it, by causing a pregnancy.   But it was still expected of me anyway.  I don’t see this point mentioned very often in today’s policy debates.
  
I also remember, particularly during that episode as a “patient” at NIH in the fall of 1962, after my William and Mary “expulsion”,  the concern from “those in power” about the nature of my sexual interests and fantasies, of what was capable of providing “pleasure” and relational incentive.  If I was a “defective” male, I had every reason to admire superior males, and dislike those who fell even “beneath” me.  I know this sounds ironic, and the social and political consequences (if too many people believe this) can become significant, even catastrophic to democracy.  I also had no incentive for interest in women, or to reproduce. 
  
I also realize that this line of thinking can be reconstructed in other sequences and lead to other observations and maybe escape hatches.   Sexual arousal was seen as a passive process, “caused” by reaction to external stimuli.  I was concerned with the idea that men and women should be and look different, which again is “ironic”.  Why should I be “sexually” drawn by someone who would depend on me economically?  I seems to me, looking back on all this, that the idea of a biological future through children needed to mean something to me.  When I was young, it did not.   (On "Days of our Lives", the "gay boy" Will Horton, however, seems quite capable and passionate about parental potential and attachment.)  There were many other things to be interested in (like music).   As I near my last years or at least decades, I can see this differently, at least at an intellectual level.  Is it more important that people become their own individual selves, or function as members of a group?  That’s a bit of a paradox, as an individual’s expression doesn’t mean anything until there are others to react to it. 



  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

You are what you tweet


“Smart or stupid, we are what we tweet”, in the world according to Rick Hampson, in a USA Today article on Wednesday, March 20, link here  The print title is “age-old bad judgment lives long in the digital age”.

People are getting fired or sacked for what they put on Twitter as much as Facebook. Sometimes whole careers are deep-sixed.  One of the most interesting anecodtes is that of extra actress Nicole Crowher from “Glee”, who tweeted some spoilers for upcoming episodes, and her boss said she’d never work in entertainment again.

That problem sounds more the province of bloggers, or movie reviewers.  Studios could feel that a blogger could ruin the market for a film with spoilers, and imdb is quick to warn about spoiler in detail plot synopses.  But nobody needs a “Cliff Notes” for a movie (except maybe “Inception”). 

Practically all journalists have “professional” (and public) twitter accounts, and some are not afraid to lose objectivity and vaunt their opinions (like Piers Morgan on guns).  More Twitter accounts are private than used to be (and require approved following for viewing) but others tend to broadcast a lot to the public anyway with public replies and retweets.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Could a BIG solar storm destroy the Internet as we know it?


The New York Times science page has an article about solar storms by Kenneth Chang, “Forecast: Chance of Havoc”.  Online the title is “Sun Storm Forecast: Tiny Chance of Havoc”, link here
  
The article summarizes the risks to the planet’s power grid and technologically dependent society form a big solar storm. 

It's also important to note that space weather, unlike climate change, is not affected by human activity.  

There is a difference between a “solar flare”, which moves at the speed of light and does little harm, and the subsequent “coronal mass ejection”, which takes a couple days to reach Earth and which, if big enough, can short out power grid circuits and transformers. A solar flare is also much less severe than a gamma ray burst, which would come from a supernova hundreds or thousands of light years away, without warning; but such bursts probably happen only once every 500 million years or so.   Mild solar flares and CME's are common.  Big ones may be more common than we think, but a vast majority completely miss Earth.  Still, rare destructive and unpreventable incidents do happen. 

There would exist a possibility that the power industry knows that a CME is coming and could shut down (black out) parts of the grid temporarily (for about a day) to protect the grid.

If there really was a big direct hit from a “Carrington-sized” event (as in 1859) and the grid was not properly safeguarded, estimates for repair time for the power grid for most affected areas (possibly all of the US) range from a week to months.

The risk increases somewhat during periods of high sunspot activity. The Sun’s northern hemisphere has peaked, but the southern hemisphere is expected to peak in the fall of 2013.

If there were prolonged disruptions of Internet service providers, there could be serious questions about whether old accounts could be kept or restored, or whether business models for social media and web hosting could continue as they do now.

EEE Spectrum (from Duluth MN) examines a CME from mid 2012:


There’s a good question as to how people would cope or handle the challenge of “radical hospitality” if power were out for a large portion of the country for many weeks or months.
On my issues blog, I’ve documented the extent of disruption that I personally saw from two local tornado strikes, and Hurricane Sandy.  Even Sandy seems small compared to what a severe solar storm could do. 
Is there a homeland security issue in possibly requiring transformers or power station circuits to be more robust?
   
The same considerations (even more so) could apply to an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack from a terrorist, which could be local or widespread if resulting from a high altitude blast.  The recent bellicose behavior of North Korea is not comforting.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

There are no "victims"; there is no "they".


We’re all used to the importance of “personal responsibility” (especially if we watch “Southpark”).  We all know that misdeeds or poor performance can have personal consequences.   But we can also live with the consequences of the problems of others.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that harder to take than I would have thought.
  
There are many ways we can face disruption or “threats” of an existential nature, with coercive effects upon us individually and personally.  Some of these come from the natural world:  earthquakes, pandemics, storms.  Some of these we exacerbate with the sum effects of our own individual actions (like carbon emissions, or even sexual conduct).  Some can come from war, which has become a much more flexible concept, in this age of asymmetric actors and (especially now, with North Korea, suddenly) rogue states.   And some can come from crime. 
  
I was a “victim” of a street crime recently.  I won’t give the details now (the suddenness and brief duration of the incident, almost just a second, were surprising, perhaps shocking, and there was no time to contemplate resistance), and the consequences were minor, in the grand scheme of things.  For example, I was not injured and almost all of the loss is covered.   Nevertheless, I do have to live with the “logistical” consequences, at least short term,  that can affect my plans and productivity, and personal “competitiveness”.  
  
I am certainly struck by the possibility that, had the physical consequences been serious, they would become part of my reality, perhaps for the rest of my life.  They would determine in large part how other people perceive me.  They could make me dependent on the will of others, whatever my (past) libertarian leanings.  They respect or tolerate no personal pride.   Call it my own karma if you like.  I would be paying part of the “cost” of other people’s difficulties, whether I chose to or not. When I perceive other individual people and my degree of interest in any one of them, I react to the "reality" that I "look and see"; I don't consider unseen hardships or losses.  That's disturbing.  How much do we all depend on the undisclosed sacrifices of others? 
  
I think that there are gray zones or loose boundaries among crime, terrorism, and war.   With much crime, the perpetrator has decided that the “rules” mean nothing to him, because he has not been able to make it in the world of “other people’s laws”.  He may believe that others did not face the problems he faced and have a little of his hardship coming to them.   That sort of mentality was common with the (Maoist) “far Left” when I came of age as an adult.   Curiously, and for very much the same psychological reasons, it’s common in the gun and survivalist (or doomsday-prepping) culture of some of the extreme Right.   And the thinking is common among the “mentally ill” and terrorists, who want to see others “brought low” just as they were. They experience temporary power, to control the reality of other people, just like bullies.  
   I know this is disturbing.  A personal sense of ruin, from without, can be "reality".  I cannot necessarily be "recruited" to make something "all right" that isn't, with me anyway.  
   
In this sense, I sometimes say “There are no victims”, just as I write (in my novel), “There is no ‘they’”.  There is only “I and we”.  There is only “reality and Grace.”
  
I love the article by Steven Pearlstein (in The Washington Post), March 15, 2013, “Is capitalism moral?”  Yes, it is. 
  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Anti-tracking features of browsers have (probably) necessary "loopholes"


Peter Swire, Ohio State University assistant law professor and a privacy advisor to the Clinton Administration, warns that the battle over tracking web browsing could “break the Internet” and lead to an “arms race”.
   
That is the obvious opening tone of a front page story, “Browser makers consider limiting Web-user tracking,” by Craig Timberg, titled online (more precisely), “Web browsers consider limiting how much they track users”, link here.  Anti-tracking pressures seem to come from within the Internet community was well as from government. 
  
There is an existential concern, that if visitors don’t allow any tracking by advertisers, the “free content” business model of today will collapse, everything will be behind paywalls or subscription, and there may no longer be an economic incentive for publishing platforms like Blogger and Wordpress to exist.  Sociak media could also be jeopardized, although they are really changing the notion of publishing to an common experience that assumes social connectivity and even popularity.
  
But the actual changes now being offered by web browsers, like Firefox, may be more benign than they look at first glance.  The anti-tracking features to be provided by default in Mozilla would not prevent tracking by shopping (Amazon) or news (like newspapers) that users voluntarily go to, but would prohibit tracking by embedded ads, which often cause pages to load more slowly (but which “pay” for the “free content” – more like broadcast media than “the library”).  Microsoft Internet Explorer activates a “request” that users not be tracked, but compliance seems to be “voluntary”.
    
Internet freedom groups, like EFF, and pro-consumer groups have vigorously supported anti-tracking, The “dangers” to consumers from tracking are probably overblown, but could provide security problems or open doors to identity theft for people in tricky life situations.   (I’ve wondered this when I travel, as both on my laptop and mobile devices, the Internet seems to know what city I’m in, which could open a door to hacking and crime.)  But both the interests of self-expression and consumer convenience and efficiency do depend on the ability of advertisers to bring messages to them that they are likely to be interested in. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Determined background investigators could make something of "Likeonomics" (Facebook and elsewhere)


Adi Kadmar and David Maass, in an article for Electronic Frontier Foundation, point to studies showing what most of us have long suspected: that one can infer a lot about a person from his or her Facebook likes, especially if there are lot of them and the person actually 
uses Facebook “socially”. The link is here. The same could be true in many other media, such as YouTube.

Actually, I wondered this years ago about the “About Me” page of Hometown AOL.  During my forensics of my incident when substitute teaching (July 27, 2007) I noticed that my page had been accessed (it no longer exists on AOL) for evidence of my “intentions” behind my fictive screenplay that had them upset.  It might not be such a good thing to “Like” the movie “Edge of 17”.

I suppose if a male person “likes” a disproportionate number of young adult, “attractive” male media stars (instead of athletes), I suppose that is a pretty good predictor that he is gay.

It’s striking how social media have come full circle, from allowing free entry for self-publication, to becoming almost a required too for social conformity. It’s not so good that just one company “rules the world”, no matter how benevolent its founder or lovable his pooch.

I guess some buzzwords like “Likeonomics” and “Reid-ing 101” do take on double entendres.
    
What does it say if someone “likes” the Mahler 6th?  Believe or not, that was a standing joke in my Army barracks in 1969.  The cohort of men was much better educated than average. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

What if Bradley Manning had precipitated "Pentagon Papers II"? To an "ordinary" blogger?


Bill Keller has a very interesting perspective in the Monday New York Times, p. A19, “Private Manning’s Confidant”, here. Mr. Keller performs a thought experiment (sort of following an intellectual model like that of Andrew Sullivan’s writings) and speculates what would have happened had Pvt. Manniong gone to the New York Times directly (apparently creating a “Pentagon Papers II” situation) rather than the “outside man” (with respect to KP. That is), Julian Assange. 

One idea is that Wikileaks might have stayed off the radar screen, and maybe Assange wouldn’t even be holed up at the Ecuador Embassy in London.   Keller says that the NYT would have been careful and judicious with the material, but that it definitely had a First Amendment right to publish it.  Manning would have still been prosecuted however, as he had no “right” to divulge it, although the NYT is not seen as an “enemy” the way some people see Wikileaks (although most same people see Assange as on our side after all – just not a military court martial).
  
There remains a good question, maybe a good idea for a screenplay elevator (or Metro escalator) pitch. What happens if an “ordinary amateur blogger” is the contact point?  Without a comprehensive shield law and clarity as to whether it goes below the established press, it’s a little unclear.  There’s a good chance that the courts would say that the First Amendment protects the amateur, too, but it’s not a certainty.  (He’d need plenty of pro bono help for the millions the defense would cost.  Swartz found out that even smaller millionaires are no match for the DOJ when it has an agenda. Billionaires might be OK.)   A more practical question is the blogger’s sense of safety and well-being.  As a practical matter, if an ordinary person, active in video, self-publishing and social media stumbles on a “threat”, he or she probably would want to go to authorities in most (but not necessarily all) cases.   There is some logic in force to “See something, say something”.  Our  (post 9/11) society does have real enemies, and the existence of enemies does help shape moral thinking of expected behaviors and even potentialities.  (The nature of the most serious enemies might be changing back to more of a Coid War pattern, but that’s another discussion.)   I contacted authorities several times in the years following 9/11, and spent some time on the phone with the FBI over one email that I got.  I didn’t get a train ticket to Philadelphia but thought I was going to for a while.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"The Atlantic" stirs up the "freelancers' conundrum"; it's not "free"


There’s an interestin :talking to myself” conversation by Ta-Nahesi Coates at The Atlantic, “Lucrative work-for-free opportunity”, basic link here
  
Apparently Nate Thayer had an exchange with Olga Khazan at the The Atlantic, which wanted a nice trim piece from freelancer Thayer about Rodman’s visit to Norht Korea – a hot topic give the DRNK’s public and bellicose behavior this week (and not to be taken lightly).  Apparently OK had no money in her budget to pay for the piece, and Thayer has to support a family.  Thayer posted the interchange on hos own Wordpress blog here

This whole soliloquy (not as cheerful from the song by that name from “Carousel”) couples into the debate on amateurism, “free content”, and advertising business  models.  The Internet is not exactly the “public library” (posting Feb. 23), but, like the library, it could not exist if some people (“experts” or “professionals”) didn’t get paid.  Is the plethora of content driving the costs down to the point that “real writers” can’t make a living at it?  What about “real composers” or “real pop stars”? Yeah, you need “charisma”.
  
Working as a reporter is not easy.  You have deadlines, word-counts, fact-checking, and can get into trouble.  R. Foster Winans explained all that in his 1989 book about life at the Wall Street Journal during the insider trading scandal, “Trading Secrets”.  And reporters have to be wary about conflicts that could imply loss of objectivity.  Back in the mid 1990s, a lesbian reported was transferred to copyediting by a Tacoma, WA paper because of her public activism, and the courts at the time upheld the paper’s action. 

The exchange also plays into the debate about employers' (especially in media) abuse of interns and the whole probationary "work for free" mentality. 
   
So, is there a “freelancers’ conundrum”? 

Friday, March 08, 2013

Your Facebook "Likes" can affect your "reputation"; more on real names and pseudonyms


About a year back, a local teenager, successful in acting and vocal and piano music, told me that he doesn’t put much “faith in Facebook”.  Nice onomatopoeia, to be sure.  Yes, I think if you’re successful in the “real world” first, any needed popularity on social media can take care of itself.
  
I’ve noticed something quirky about Facebook’s Timeline.  If you go to your own profile, it shows, in a very conspicuous manner, your most recent Like, and then pictures of a number of your most recent Likes.  I understand the appeal of Likeonomics (Book reviews, Dec. 19).  But an “elder” can look pretty silly if he isn’t careful, if others look at his public profile.  The safest practice, from a reputation viewpoint, is to “like” a lot of non-person entities, like movies, companies or books (or MLB teams like the Nats).
  
It’s pretty easy to see that an employer could tell a lot about someone’s temperament from the full profile page and Timeline, if public.

I've noticed, by the way, that recently Twitter feeds to both Facebook and my own site omit conversations or tweets to specific people.  Is it desirable that those not be forwarded?  My own Twitter conversations are always about issues, not about personality stuff.  

I have not noticed any big changes in Timeline or my own Facebook news feed specifically today (or yesterday).  Maybe they were already in effect on my account.  My news feed seems to be driven off "Likes" and possibly my own surfing (since I allow tracking).  It may be affected by the substance of my own blogs and sites.  
     
EFF is providing a link to a Yahoo! story about Vince Cerf, the supposed ”father of the Internet”, by Gerry Shih, about the practice of requiring real names for social media registration and associated services, link here
  
Facebook is the strictest, saying that it leads to a safer environment, and it probably does – unless you live in an authoritarian country.  But the biggest issue is cultural. Double lives are not possible anymore, and personal expression and speech through the workplace are comingled.  I really had to deal with this potential “conflict of interest” myself in the 1990s when I had announced I was writing and publishing a book about (in part) gays in the military, while working for a company that dealt with the military and its values.  Cerf’s article talks about the use of pseudonyms, as important and legitimate for many writers.  I even encountered that issue.  My legal name starts with :John W.”, which I have to use for Facebook, but the “William” becomes “Bill” for a nickname, and I publish my books, blogs and websites under the partial nickname (technically a pseudonym) Bill.  Even that caused complications when I was substitute teaching and a controversial fictive screenplay by “Bill” using the name “Bill” for a dubious character was discovered.  

I do subscribe to the belief, that if you have something to say, it has more political and social effect if people know who the speaker is.  Yet some people find that idea frightening (as did my own mother).  They don’t like anyone to seek limelight if they have “gotten out” of responsibilities and risks that others face. 


Thursday, March 07, 2013

Social aloofness, Part II


This morning, as I started the day on my computer and signed on to AOL, I was “greeted” by a scare headline about North Korea’s bellicose nuclear threat against the United States, which I have written a posting about on the International Issues blog.  While we live with dire threats to our lives all the time and most of them don’t materialize (and this particular pronouncement probably really is just  “Howdy Doody bluster”, I realize), the idea that, despite our best intentions and efforts, catastrophe and “purification” can occur plays a bug part in our moral (and religious) thinking.

Let me say for the record, that as I approach age 70 without a lineage, I do feel there are limits.  On the medical side, there are some medical situations that I could prepare for (I’ll skip the details), but others (like, for example, transplants) that I think would be inappropriate for my past history and circumstances.  I am simply too socially isolated for some things to be possible (even in “Christ”).   I am a bit taken back by Mehmet Oz’s idea that, to undergo his invasive heart surgery, you need to love someone and make them love you back.  The idea that you love someone to get something back seems like a contradiction to me.  But maybe it’s reality.

Likewise, I can imagine some catastrophes that would make my own life not worth continuing.  Forget about all out thermonuclear war and “duck and cover” that we all grew up with in the 50s (and faced with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, although some historians now question how serious that really was).  For example, imagine a world after an electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP) by terrorists (as in the novel “One Second After”), or maybe even North Korea.  I would have absolutely nothing to offer a world that would be left.  I cannot contribute anything to the world in NBC’s “Revolution” or the world of self-sufficient  (and self-defensive) family cells subscribing to “Doomsday Prepper” ideology. Oh, yes, I do like to film them. That’s all.  It is very relevant that tremendous damage can come to our infrastructure from space storms (which could take out major parts of the power grid for months) or superstorms associated with climate change.  Some of these could end my own personal plans for media production permanently.  We need to take care of our “stuff”. 
  
This does raise a corollary moral question (that I didn’t quite get to yesterday).  Is “generativity” a moral obligation?   Is there an obligation, if not explicitly to have children if possible, to at least participate in raising the next generation,  and particularly (as now often legally required by filial responsibility laws) the previous ones?   Generally, these ideas come from religious or tribal cultures and spread through a broader moral and legal culture.  But I am rather struck by the idea that we can no longer “afford” to have people think it is all right to waste future generations’ resources because there will be no consequences to them after they’re gone.  That makes a lot of sense now, even though twenty years ago (in the world of “don’t ask don’t tell” as a legitimate setup) we would have brushed it aside, preferring to keep those who are “different” in their own separate, spaces, even if they offered prying views.
  
I’m also struck by how some of my friends in their twenties or late teens have no concept of any of this, that obligations can come upon them from the outside world, even to fend off enemies.  I grew up in a world with a military draft and a deferment system that could be construed as Darwinian and as weeding people out.  That did help shape my values and made me at least indifferent to those who don’t perform, as I noted in yesterday’s post.  Yet I can see that if we want to “have our cake and eat it too” (on terms of physics and entropy), we need to accept the idea that some intrinsic obligations fall on all of us.  We cannot prolong life indefinitely (or our parents) or give worthiness to the disabled unless the culture gets everyone to pitch in with some personal sincerity.   
  
This could be a time to think about national service.  I don’t like the idea that “the government” would run it.  But it could be a useful way to meet the student debt problem, to give people a way to work it down, and it could also be an opportunity to end the practice of abusive internships (my IT Job Market blog, March 4).
Of course, the experience of people growing up today is quite varied.  Some parents believe in teaching children to be responsible for younger siblings, even though the kids did not “cause” them by choice.  I did not develop the capacity to feel direct affection for relatives the way some people normally do, because, as I noted yesterday, the humiliation of social competition when I was growing up.  I adapted and made my own truce.  But I can see that my doing so was problematical.  In lower income, less culturally intact communities, young males can ponder someone like me as a parasite, and believe that there really are no rules that mean anything, and believe there is no reason not to engage in crime if they can get away with it.  That can make society unsustainable.  Of course, these same young people could wonder about the parasitic behavior of Wall Street. 

Our moral systems certainly show more than one face.
  
But it is hard for me to say when I can live up to “do as I say”.