Thursday, May 30, 2013

As someone who is "different", I know I have to "step up" to meet real needs, sometimes, regardless of my "choices"

I noticed today that the introduction to my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book had been titled “You Didn’t Ask, but I’ll Tell Anyway”.  And one particularly critical reviewer on Amazon noted that I didn’t give her a reason to “care” about my views, on anything.
   
Actually, I thought that the first chapter, giving the chronicle of my William and Mary “expulsion” in 1961 and setting up my stake in the debate three-plus decades later on “gays in the military”, imputed a reason to care.  The reviewer didn’t mention that incident in her discussion of the book, yet it’s the most critical of all.
  
But, in “retirement”, fifteen years later, it’s a fair question that I get.  Why do I keep “speaking”, regardless of the lack of financial compensation and perhaps declining audience numbers (so much competition with newer social media) .  Why don’t I join up in groups so I can “help people” more directly?  Why won’t I embrace some of the other compelling specific causes of others – when, as one can see from the media every day, there is so much “need”?
  
It’s a bit of a course reversal.  In the past, if I had presented myself into various personal situations, I would have had to fit into someone else’s bureaucracy (still true) and run the risk of being seen as “butting in” when not personally welcome.  You have to develop your own voice first before you have something to offer others, right?  Yet, I get these entreaties, some of them coming with veiled threats.  Free entry may not be around forever.
  
I did have my own talents, even as a kid (starting with music).  But you kept coming after me, to learn to take care of other people, even physically and taking risks, first.  Over time, that morphed into “demands” that I enter the world of emotional complementarity with other people. When I did not comply as much as "you" wanted, you sometimes called me a coward or mooch, words not used much today like they were a half-century ago. 
  
This was not a matter of being responsible for the consequences of choices.  These were pre-existing conditions of socialization.  To not fulfill them would leave the physical risk taking to others, and disrupt (at least by distraction) the complementarity that sustaining families requires.
   
But what I think is important is that “you” (that is, everyone who interacted with me over the years this way) be able to articulate what you really want and need, without leading yourself into contradictions.  And I think that the progressive part of the social and political spectrum, which might see “your” behavior as bullying or a bid for social control and superiority, should listen to what you say.
  
I think “your” idea is something like this:  People have to “step up” to challenges, related to the real needs of others around them, often in circumstances that they don’t get to choose.  (A particularly striking example in my own life concerned the Vietnam era military draft, countered by deferments.)  “You” believe that navigating this test satisfactorily tends to lead one into stable, permanent relationships that express emotional complementarity or “polarity” – usually tradition marriage with children, and responsibility for other generations, in both directions.  In time, the unchosen challenges become more about emotion and domestic needs, and less about external threats – for example, the increased need for eldercare with longer life spans (when people have fewer children).
  
At some point, my reaction to all this, as it played out with considerable irony in my own life, suggests principles – moral or ethical, social, political, and maybe legal – that would apply to a lot more people than just me.  Call it a use of “inductive reasoning”.  It becomes a systematic examination of the question as to how people who are “different” should behave and deploy themselves.  People like me.  Oh, I know, we are all “different” in some way. 
  
But the basic reason that this “matters” to “all of us” is renewed concerns about sustainability of freedom, from all kinds of influences (climate change, and terrorism driven in part by indignation).
I’ve always viewed the questions around “dangerous difference” through a moral lens.  That’s how things were seen as I grew up in the 1950s.  The idea  mandatory sharing of sacrifice was very real then.  In more recent years,  as appreciation of diversity has grown, there has developed more interest in learning the science of “disability”, which often masks hidden gifts that add to diversity.
  
I don’t have a clear medical explanation for my own physical difficulties, which kept me from physical competitiveness, learning to swim, and making normal social competition a source of shame – meaning I needed an alternate path in life – which in my case worked, but which could be taken away if I have to fight other people’s battles.  Was my problem a kind of mild autism or Asperger’s?  Maybe.  Could it be circulatory? Possibly.  Motivational and attitudinal?  At some point in my later life I should do a full medical workup to find out.
  
I certainly see that recalcitrance in going along with the need for interdependence, forgiveness and acceptance of attention from others when really needed, can put others in jeopardy, too. 
  
I’d like to summarize the progression in the “direction” of my thinking since my first book.
  
The 1997 book started with an effort to anchor basic fundamental rights to “private choice” for “homosexuals” (whether the term refers to immutable traits or deliberate desires).  It focused on “due process” rights, protecting people with certain patterns of adult intimate interest from government (or systematic societal) intrusion.  Quickly. I saw how protecting these rights correlated to anchoring fundamental rights of individuals in all kinds of context s  (particularly self-expression, self-defense, and faith or its lack thereof). The ideological underpinning for policy direction would be an almost fanatical dedication to the idea of "personal responsibility", regardless of mitigating or immutable circumstances. 
   
There used to be, a few decades ago. a cloudy perception that “homosexuals”  might undermine the reproductive future and emotional solidarity of a community, even though (ironically), “they” didn’t directly threaten specific marriages in the usual sense.  (The detraction seemed to be a more dangerous threat them.)  
  
So police raids and the various tactics of McCarthyism were seen as making “examples” of nonconformists based on presumptive (but not direct) evidence of supposed wrongdoing.  (We saw that thinking with the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy.)  So the basic personal rights of “homosexuals” needed to be protected.  At the same time, the practical problems that “traditional” families faced in an increasingly permissive and individually competitive culture need to be faced.  These were posited in terms of the economic aspects of most “family” issues. For example, “inequality” in wages benefits and taxes or even partnership (marriage) rights of “single” people (loosely equated to the childless) needed to be balanced against increased disposable income.
  
After 9/11, and the evolution of many issues during the past decade (including the way social media is interpreted)  and my own prolonged experience with eldercare (which I could not “choose”), my view of the whole process went into retrograde, rather like a palindrome.  The basic moral conflicts came between the need for the individual to be and express himself, compared to a valid need for society to have people submit their egos to the common interest sometimes (often posed in religious terms, like Allah). This conflict seemed to co-exist with an increasing need to treat people as equally as possible in public policy with regard to any characteristics (Biology class!) that seemed largely immutable and beyo0nd the purview of choice (sexual orientation).  But the biggest concerns go deeper than econo,ic parity, derived from equal protection, which had followed behind due process (for example, Sandra Day O’Connor on Lawrence v. Texas).  This dichotomy had morphed, away from economics, to following a map of the human heart.    


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Making your digital infrastructure robust against catastrophes

Can someone who works solo on literary, music or film content realistically protect his content from  destruction in disaster?  The question obviously recurs, now given last weeks super-tornadoes in Oklahoma.
  
The most obvious protection is to back up your stuff in the Cloud, whether with Carbonite, Applie’s ICloud, or Mozy. Check that you can retrieve it, keep your credit cards updates, and passwords secure (we haven’t heard much about clouds being hacked, but out there could exist hackers or enemies mean enough to do so).  I’ve had trouble accessing Carbonite from a different and new machine (so I usually reload from thumbdrives).  Now cloud backups are periodic; generally, any one item can be backed up only once every 24 hours.

Of course, Cloud backup reliability might be tested with a really big national disaster, like a powergrid, EMP, or cyberattack.  
  
So the next question is, how to secure your stuff physically, besides relying on the Cloud? One consideration is that after a disaster your home could be condemned and authorities might not let you fetch your data and gear, which might have survived and be usable. 

One obvious solution is to keep some data in separate locations, most preferably in a safe-deposit box in a bank.  But even small bank buildings could be destroyed by supertornadoes or coastal hurricanes.  
You might want a safe deposit location to be some distance from your home, and particularly not immediately northeast of your home (a tornado’s path). 

If you have a basement, you might want to keep some of your flash or CD backups downstairs, and at least one or two laptops (with hard drives reasonably current) downstairs.  If you live in Texas or Oklahoma, you might want to consider investing in a storm cellar and keeping some stuff there.  The same goes for keeping paper copies of valuable records. 

A tornado can pop suddenly, and it’s possible that there might be only a few minutes warning.

If you live in a hurricane or flood prone area, or a wildfire exposed area, you might want to consider having arrangements in advance of a hotel to go to, with portable gear, out of range.  Sometimes wildfires give little warning.,  Mudslides (as in California) seem to give no warning (although an unusuall winter rain can be a prelude).  Sinkholes (most of all in Florida) give no warning, and seem to defeat the storm cellar backup idea.

And massive earthquakes, which come without warning, most likely in western states, can defeat the storm shelter strategy.  Midwestern earthquakes, based on the New Madrid fault, could be as devastating, particularly to homes not build with earthquake codes, but occur in severity much less frequently (probably only every several hundred years). 

An unusual calamity could be a tsunami, with hours of warning, perhaps from across an ocean.  An underwater landslide from the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands might be capable of generating a tsunami a hundred feet or more high along the US East Coast, reaching across the entire coastal plain.
Business owners should consider making optical (CD or DVD) as well as flash and cloud backups.  Some authorities say that an electromagnetic pulse, even a localized one from a flux device, can disable and destroy magnetic data devices as well as the power grid, but there is disagreement on that.  Solar storms are very unlikely to damage home electronics. 
  

I think a lot of attention could be placed on steel construction, which can make homes resistant to tornaodes even up to EF4. 

An interesting moral or ethical question would be, how prepared should homeowners be to house others, even from distant communities.  (After Hurricane Katrina, many were housed in Texas, and some came as far north as the DC area.)  

So, taking care of yourself – and your data – can be a real tall order. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Making a stronger case for planning the "digital afterlife"; I update my own Account Manager

I have recently updated my own Google account to provide direction as to what should happen should it suddenly become inactive.  I will be patching together directions for my other accounts soon (AOL,. Verio for “doaskdotell.com”, Facebook, Twitter. Etc). 
   
The Account manager, in my case, required 2-step verification, and for me to provide an e-mail address of the preferred contact (the  “afterlife” trustee in case of my own death) with an automated message.  A warning is sent when the account has been inactive for two months.
   
There are reasons why an account could become relatively inactive even during life.  These could include hospital stays (hospitals are notoriously paranoid about allowing patients to have electronics in the rooms – they ought to provide Internet access that you can pay for, just like phone),  long term jury duty (if unlucky enough to get on a controversial trial requiring sequestering), overseas travel (especially to non-western countries), new employment requiring travel or even some kinds of volunteerism.. Another possibility is disaster recovery, especially if there is widespread damage to infrastructure (especially communications) in a geographical area.  That could occur because of terrorism.
  
Paul Sullivan has an important essay on this matter in his “Wealth Matters” column called “Leaving Behind the Digital Keys to Financial Lives”, p. B7 of Saturday Business Day,  the New York Times, link here .

Practices that seem necessary for security – such as different passwords for different accounts – can confound lives for others after one is gone or is incapacitated.
  
One fact that has always impressed me is that service providers aren’t more squeamish about the idea that people can self-publish and broadcast and then not be held accountable if they disappear and no one else can answer for them.  Perhaps that’s part of the Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor world.  If you think about it, you can see how the “Whitelisting” paradigm of newer social media could be leveraged to require more pre-arrangement with others before publication. 

  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Do ask, do tell": The press needs to "ask" when pursuing major national security stories (Washington Post)

The Washington Post, in an editorial this morning (Saturday, May 25), went down my “Do Ask Do Tell” path, with a criticism of an FBI probe of Fox news correspondent James Rosen.  The piece is called “The freedom to ask: The government went too far by calling a journalist a co-conspirator” in print; online, it is “The press must have the ability to ask questions”.  The link is here

The government apparently claimed that Rosen was prompting a leak source , Jin-Woo Kim, to disclose classified information,  As a follow on, there does seem to be no prosecution of the reporter likely. But the Post notes that Obama seems much more aggressive about leaks, and even reporters who may prod them, that was Bush.

The “obvious” question would be, what if an independent blogger had probed someone for a “leak”?  Could the legal ramifications be different?


In an asymmetric world, it is possible for bloggers independent of the “established press” to stumble on possibly critical information or major and novel threats  -- the “see something, say something” problem.  I have actually spoken to authorities a few times over the years about information passed to me, resulting in one telephone conversation with the FBI in Philadelphia in 2005.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Anderson Cooper show again hits the Section 230 issue


Today, an Anderson Cooper daytime broadcast re-iterated the Section 230 controversy. This time, there was a webmaster who was hosting “revenge porn” where ex-lovers post risky pictures of women all over the Internet.
  
There was a general feeling among the audience and comments on the web that women brought this upon themselves by taking or allowing to be taken some inappropriate pictures.  If taken without their knowledge, that’s a different matter.
  
Still, the webmaster was questioned about his moral compass and why he would hide behind a legal technicality. 
   
The link for the broadcast today is here.
  
I would challenge Anderson to host a daytime show conversation about Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  He should invite people from both sides of the issue:  Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google or Youtube and Facebook, perhaps me (I can shed light on it – and I’m three hours away by Amtrak) , as well as advocates of protection of children from cyverbullying (Parry Aftab), and some attorneys who can discuss defamation and privacy (they are trick concepts, and can vary among states).  It's inevitable that there will be public confrontation over this issue some day. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teens are more likely to whitelist social media information than in the past (Pew Study)


The Washington Times is reporting, in an article by Annie Z. Lu Wednesday, that teenagers are becoming more savvy in not oversharing on social media. 
   
Teens are more likely to whitelist information they post than before, and be pickier about who sees it. 
  
The Washington Times story link is here.  Teens are not too concerned about advertisers who see their posts, but are more aware that schools or employers could be concerned about what they post than they had been before.  They are more likely to unfriend people or block specific users (this can be done with regular websites with “htaaccess” but is not common).

Teens who are actually successful in activities in school (whether sports or drama, music, and the like) are more likely to emphasize “real world” interactions and accomplishments, as these tend to matter more to colleges anyway. 

In one local Arlington VA church, teens use an annual “30 hour fast” time to make short films that could conceivably be entered into real festivals. 
  
The link for the Pew Study “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy” by Marry Madden. Amanda Lenhard, Aaron Smith, and others is here
  
In practice, it appears very common now for college students to leave only basic profile information on Facebook open to everyone, and to require approval for Twitter following.  It wasn’t common three years ago. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lawyer advises laying low if a small-volume blog "defames" you


I saw an interesting “legal tip of the day” from Lawline”, regarding online defamation on a blog or perhaps social media, fro, 2009.. 


The attorney advises clients flamed (or legally defamed) in low-traffic blogs to remain cool and probably do nothing. Litigation would only be likely to draw more public attention to the content in question.  That observation would seem to be true also with people with relatively lower numbers of social media “friends” or “followers” or even “likes” (or dislikes). 

Of course, there can be another side to this “online reputation” question. Employers or other interested parties could still look for the item and be influenced by it, even if it wasn’t relatively public. 
   
The question might also occur with public photos of a person posted on another person’s site or on a Facebook wall, or otherwise “tagged”.  It sounds theoretical now, but facial recognition software continues to progress.  

This particular video didn't take up Section 230 issues.  

Attorney Ronald Coleman also discusses invasion of privacy in a similar Lawline video.  He discusses photographing homes from the air, and says that New York State (and most East Coast states) is not enthusiastic about protecting privacy compared to publication and speech, but California may be more interested in privacy issues, as is Europe/ 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

In the 50s world in which I grew up, moral thinking started with "paying your dues"


When I was growing up, it seemed that the most important “moral issue” in the world was whether someone a bit “different” like me would learn to perform “for others” according to gender, even when openness to sacrifice was required and even when it meant giving up any edge in my own abilities.
  
Everyone shared in common sacrifice. Everyone paid his dues.  All men shared in protecting women and children for the survival of the community. 

I was in that "transition zone", where I could draw attention to myself in other ways and create a stir.  So “re-educating” someone like me was seen as essential to the community, even an national security issue for warding of enemies.  It was the “pawns ahead of pieces” theory.
  
In a few of my drafts of novels, the “me” character gets sent to an “academy” where he learns to “become a man”. In that sheltered environment, he meets and interacts with one of his own “role models”.  In the meantime, while he is there, something catastrophic happens to the outside world to make it dystopian. Channeling the "different" individual was seen as essential to security and stability, as so illustrated by the draft in earlier times; now it is related to sustainability, calls for collective commitment, and recognition that the threat from "hidden" inequality of sacrifice can run very deep.  The conscription of earlier times translates to an expectation that people "step up" in modern, freer times -- physically and emotionally.  Our ideas of fairness -- and lasting relationships -- ultimately link back to this.
The moral theory of the mental health world of the 1950s was that gender conformity would lead to a growth process where permanent marriage and family would happen, and where a healthful and appropriate relationship with others outside family would develop.  This was certainly a speculative theory at best, and was pretty easy for those in power to abuse. 
  
Yet, I tended, ironically, to develop the same attitude about others that had been shown about me.  I tended to see people as inherently “worthy” or not, partly based on notions or appearance and performance associated with gender.  Since real relationships were difficult, I tended to move into an area of fantasy.
  
The rub, of course, is that if someone has real talents and is able to focus on them and deploy them publicly, especially in a global world, he may wind up able to deal with other people in the world on is own terms.  That sounds healthy – to have something to offer first (as in the area of music composition or writing).  But it also depends on being “fortunate” and depending on the hidden sacrifices of others. 
  
In the latter part of my life, after retirement, I’ve faced a different kind of “conscription”.  That is, in addition to the eldercare that I’ve chronicled, real calls to become involved with the needs of others.  Now, I don’t like to be solicited and fight off sales calls .  I can’t change course for what I’m doing, even though I understand at a certain intellectual level that others have to make a living, too – sometimes by selling things on commission, including to me.  I don’t like to be approached to fight for other people’s causes. 
  
There is something about doing something for other people.  When what I do comes out of my own talents, I’m not very concerned with what :”I think of” the person I do it for.  That sounds healthy enough.  But in real life, that often isn’t good enough.  So much in life does depend on “fortune”.   A lot of the calls for volunteerism sound unfocused – a willingness to join teams, respond to emergencies, or pledge “hours” as well as money, into bureaucracies controlled by others.
  
I heard a plea from NBC-Washington’s “Wednesday’s Child” Sunday morning..  A young man was presented who had unusual artistic talents.  I won’t even get in to the suspicion people could come up it I expressed interest (in practice, it’s a by downer).  But adoption raises a question:  would I be willing to nurture talent in someone else rather than put so much emphasis on deploying my own?  I used to hear about that kind of question even in adult relationships.  (See TV blog entry on the NBC series Nov. 13, 2012;  another ethical question would be expecting to be able to hand-pick a child for abilities. .   A lifestyle that put's one's own accomplishments is certainly double-edged.  But maybe, despite Rick Warren, sometimes " it is about you."  
What, according to the old-style "morality" that I grew up with, was supposed to happen to those of us who really "couldn't" do the physical combative stuff?  At lest, we were supposed to keep a low profile.  Then there wouldn't be too much dissent from those even more disadvantaged?  It seems like the 50s-style morality wanted to practice psychological and localized Marxism, with a veneer of economic freedom. (The "natural family" crowd sometimes says this outright.)  What you didn't need that much of in a a socially structured environment with less diversified social opportunity was real compassion.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A review of my time in Army Basic Combat Training (1968); I don't want to go "Back to the Bay"; the draft can still come back


As I’ve noted here before, I’m planning to issue a “formal” commercial version of my “Do Ask Do Tell III” booklet (Books, Oct. 1, 2011).  I’m seriously considering adding to it, as an appendix, the original “Chapter 4” of my fiction manuscript, titled “The Proles”, which I wrote by hand in 1969 while in the Army at Fort Eustis,  That chapter gives the excruciating details of my experience in Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, SC, from February 1968 through May 1968.
  
Yes, you can tell from the elapsed months, I did get recycled.  One of the lowest points in my life occurred on Sunday, March 31, 1968, when on KP in Special Training Company, when the cook made me scrub out the grease pit with a tooth brush.  That evening, LBJ would announce that he would not run for re-election that year.  And LBJ had escalated the war in Vietnam, leading to 50000 GI deaths and 500,000 troops “over there” about the time I was in.
  
In my 1997-2000 “Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” I did “summarize” my experience Basic.  (Author Peter Tauber had done the same with his 1973 book “The Sunshine Soldiers”, and I spoke to him once by phone around that year.)  The book make the language a little more polite and tended ti stress the political and social significance of the Vietnam era military draft in policy terms.  It mentioned a few things worth noting again.  One is that the Army did check with NIH twice about my security clearances, resulting in some bizarre communication where the Army seemed to be passing the buck on my suitability to civilian “professionals” in an area where the military usually wants its own judgment (as we remember from the 1993 debate on gays in the military).  Another is a general observation that the military draft was seen as an essential prong of national security, the way pawns are indispensable in a chess game.  Nuclear confrontation was less likely if the US could deploy sufficient troops on the ground anywhere.  It reminds me of a certain approach to chess, as in the “Queen Pawn” openings where the pawns are advanced in front of the major pieces before the pieces come into contact.  (Chapter 2 of the book also discusses my plot for “The Proles”, which the reader can check online or in the book itself; I’ll come back to that another time.)
  
But the fifty typewritten pages about Basic from my 1969 original (of “The Proles”) communicates a much more disturbing concept.  The text is excruciating, as it details my difficulties in adapting to what was demanded of me in military life.  There could be serious consequences for me, for the rest of my life, if I eventually did not do so.  I could become a burden on others in the unit.  There is particular attention to the idea that, if I finished Basic successfully in reasonable time, that I  would be “sheltered away” in a safe position (like a King in a chess game after castling)  whereas others, with less education but more street smarts, became the cannon fodder in Vietnam.  There was even the spectacle of my Direct Commission application, while I was in Special Training, and the bizarre interview I had with a board of officers at the end of Basic, just a few weeks after an equally bizarre conversation with a “mental hygiene professional”.  It’s the stuff of independent film today.
  
There really wasn’t much sexual tension  -- homosexuality itself was not a direct issue  in such a regimented world – but the lack of social skills was. This was more like Asperger’s Syndrome in the military, or even mild autism.
  
The “DADT I” book also relates my time in graduate school before I entered the Army.  In fact, to “redeem myself”, I took the draft physical three times (in 1964, 1966, and 1967), going from 4-F to 1-Y to 1-A.  By 1966, in fact, the draft physical had stopped “asking” about sexual orientation – a little known fact, but logical in a world with a military draft.  When in graduate school, I was also an assistant instructor, with the “power” to give exams and grades (in that dreaded algebra).  I recall grading finals on a bus (out to see a grad school friend in Colorado) and turning the grades in (about half the grades were D’s and F’s) the day I would catch a plane home from graduate school, about the enter the Army very shortly.  I was passing judgment on others, in a way that I would soon be subjected to myself.  That transition was ironic and curious.  Some will say that I “abuse” the power and was an a-hole.  Perhaps I had comeuppance due.
  
After Basic, there was the stint in the Pentagon, and the mysterious transfer to Fort Eustis.  In Chapter 5 of “The Proles” I relate history saying that the “sheltered MOS” (“01 E20” for those who remember_ were phased out, and some “sheltered” people with more time left were sent to AIT and Vietnam combat after all.
The Selective Service System still exists (link)  and young adult males are still required to register.

Sometimes, since 9/11, there have been political calls to resume the draft, out of fairness and shared sacrifice.  Charles Moskos took that position after 9.11, even as he backed away from his original support of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” which he had helped author in 1993. I actually talked to Selective Service and got documents from them when working on the first book in 1996. 



But the real value of the “Basic Training” chapter is to pose a certain moral question.  That is, what behavior and performance is expected of someone when an outside force compels him to serve the needs of others, in a manner outside of his normal skillset and function in a “free market” world?  One could use the word “cowardice” regarding my issues in Basic at times, even though that word is no longer used that way today in polite company.
  
This was no small issue.  The rifle range did damage my hearing, at least on the right ear (the “coaching side” on the Rifle Range), resulting in some sacrifice for someone who had intended that music would be a big part of his life. 

There’s another angle.  I was totally helpless for about six weeks, and then after about two weeks in Special Training Co0mpany I suddenly got better, but not because of unusual coercion from the cadre.  I just did.  I passed the PCPT on the fourth try with a score in the mid 300’s, and later made sharpshooter on the Rifle Range.  It was possible for me to perform physically, more or less in accordance of my not-chosen biological gender, if pushed hard enough.  As a moral matter, should I have been?  The problem is that if I didn’t step up, others would sacrifice in my place.  That kind of tension can generate wars.

I have to account for the fact that I am rather clumsy with a lot of mechanical, practical things.  I have a lot on my plate doing what I do, so I have to remain focused, and not make “changes” that could break things.  (That sounds like “moves” in an IT workplace.)  The brain has finite capacity, though it can gradually increase.

I suppose I have a moral duty to find out why I was “behind”, since it could lead to more sacrifice form others.  In my world, as I grew up, “disability” was perceived through a “moral lens”, and I tended to reflect that value as I judged others in turn (as I already had in grad school as a math teacher).  Based on modern neuroscience, it sounds like some of the issue might have been premature “pruning” of brain circuits, cutting off distractions so I could focus on what I would be good at.  This may be a residual of some sort of epigenetic  autism.

One could apply this sort of analysis to any situation, where someone has to function under someone else’s authority, survive, and yet not jeopardize others.  One could even imagine this analogy with the Holocaust.
  
And I think we are “judged” by how we step up to these individually tailored (maybe not so random) challenges, that seem to vary among generations but have a tendency to be forgotten and then to come back. Even so, I remember my own questions about the public morality of the Vietnam war later, and getting a letter from my own church that we had to "trust our leaders".  We know where that went. As a general matter, people can share moral culpability for what their countries do, too.  
        
I can relate the experience to today’s calls about service and volunteerism.  I don’t like being “conscripted” into serving someone else’s agenda, and I cringe when I see calls to pledge “hours” as well as money to “other people’s causes”.  Service seems more valid when it is related to one’s own special skills, and when the recipients have some specific connection to how one has already lived one’s life. In these circumstances, I don’t get too concerned  about judging the “worthiness” of others.
  
Yet, the ability to find satisfaction from connection to others, without their having to be judged the way I think I have been sometimes, still remains an issue for me.  

I am left with another impression, though, of what happens if we don’t take care of our infrastructure (May 13 posting).  It comes right out of the Army, the military mind.  “The whole world will go Back to the Bay”.

Wikipedia attribution link (p.d.) for modern picture of BCT at Fort Jackson (second image).  


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Does the future use of social media portend an expectation of whitelisting?


One of the important concepts in the use of social media is “whitelisting”, the idea that content is posted for the eyes of people already “approved” as “friends” or “followers”, or, in the older Web 1.0 environment, recipients on a listserver.  Of course, digital communications are “permanent” and can be forwarded to others in ways not controlled by the sender.  In practice, this has been a real problem for the “privacy” many people, especially teenagers and young adults.

"Friend-specific" applications processing has gone quite far.  I think it's a little creepy to want to check a seating chart for a concert against social media to see who might be sitting near you, but that's how far it has gotten.  
  
It sounds like there is a chicken-and-egg problem here.  Are “we” supposed to make our “friends” in the real world (through work, church, volunteerism, socializing in bars, courtship, and anything else) first, before we decide who should receive our communications? That would seem to give a “purpose” to communicating material that might seem provocative or a sign of recklessness or bad judgment if released into the wild (as I found out with my substitute teaching fiasco in 2005, noted here July 27, 2007).  I can see how this concept could become important in some quarters, for example perhaps homeowner’s insurance, as well as the job market and exposure of other family members. (But oversharing with loosely screened "friends" of daily activity details leads to security and reputation problems, too.)

That’s not the spin, however, of the book “The New Digital Age” (mentioned in yesterday’s post).  The early chapters suggest that people will evolve digital identities that parallel their “real” ones.   Everyone will live a “Second Life”. 
  
In fact, my self-publication, and leveraging of the free and generous (perhaps gratuitous) search –engine indexing in the early days of my web presence (the late 90s, when I put my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book text online) helped me to find interesting people in the real world.  It worked in the reverse of the way Facebook is supposed to work now. 
  
There are even deeper questions that follow: like what “you” value in other people. When will meeting real needs first be emotionally satisfying?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Our top priority right now: stability and security of the power grid: and it's a technical issue before it's a socia or politicall one


I’ll be reviewing a new book by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, “The New Digital Age”, and, yes, I can be swept away by the way digital space is providing a new universe for our lives. 
  
But I also think that there are a few issues we need to focus on to make sure we sustain “life as we know it”.  And a few of the issues seem to have more substance and credibility than others.

One of the most critical is the stability and security of the power grid.  There are reports from places that sound credible (the National Academy of Sciences, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, as well as right-wing columnists and politicians, even Newt Gingrich) that major parts of our country could suffer disruptions of shutdowns, with tragic results, for years form a terrorist electromagnetic pulse strike (WMP), which could be deployed more locally in smaller weapons.  It’s not completely clear to me that it is as easy for “amateurs” to make and deploy these devices (like radio frequency and flux guns, which are all non-nuclear) as a few pundits claim – but certainly the debate following the Boston tragedy will invoke debate on the subject.   It ought to take stage with the gun debate.  (Why hasn’t it happened in the Middle East?)   Perhaps even more ominous is a danger from nature – solar storms or “flares”, with huge coronal mass ejections, on the scale of the 1859 Carrington Event.  They happen, but most miss the Earth.  Every hundred years or so, we can have a CME that hits our magnetosphere directly and is large enough to do long-lasting grid to the power grid.

A good question, or course, is, what, from a technical viewpoint, should power companies do (besides paying dividends to shareholders, including me) to harden their grids – especially huge transformers – from such events or threats.  Should homeowners or property managers do anything?  I think we should be debating the engineering and science before the sociology and  politics. I’m not prepared for a world of “doomsday preppers”.  Obviously the huge tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc) belong in the debate.

Of course, I grew up with doomsday debates – the Cold War.  The Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded while I was a “patient” at NIH, and I, since I went into DC to school at night, was the only one who followed what was going on.  There are reports (from PBS -- "The Man Who Saved the World" -- Oct. 23, 2012, TV blog) that one Russian submarine commander could have chosen to  ignite WWIII but there are other reports that say the historical accounts of Kennedy’s actions are overblow,   More recently, after 9.11, there was renewed debate on the idea that asymmetric actors could launch nuclear blasts (which produce an EMP effect if at high enough alitutde), or “radiation dispersion devices”.  The possibility has been mentioned in conjunction with North Korea.

But the possibility of a precipice has always influence our “moral” thinking. There is a notion that if families are weak or social capital is lacking because of “hyper-individualism”, a society is more vulnerable to attack from an ideological enemy that wants to prove something. That bears on someone like me, because those of us who are “different” but powerful in unusual ways benefit from “hyper-individualism” and perhaps tend to invite potentially dangerous indignation from those who are displaced by it. 

Global warming and climate change – and I think the science (starting with Al Gore, it you must – even if he didn’t invent the Internet) is almost beyond question.  The world will change.  But, compared to the threats above, climate change is gradual, although it can cause huge local catastrophes that can test social capital in a society unprepared for it.

But that’s one reason why power grid stability, as an issue, needs top priority from journalists and bloggers, even right now.

The “social capital” area has one huge challenge whose public debate is still diffuse.  That’s “demographic winter”.  We are not producing enough children to support our elderly, as we live longer.  Specifically, that problem produced a flap in 2012 about filial responsibility laws, (in about 30 states), which produced an uptick in my own blog stats last spring when I reported on a Pennsylvania case (John Pittas) regarding these laws.  By and large, we see the debate reflected more in “entitlement” reform (Social Security, Medicare), and even sequestration and the debt ceiling. 

From a social point of view, we’re learning something we knew 50 years ago but somewhat forgot. People have to learn to take care of one another, besides themselves.  That rises to a moral issue, but it isn’t quite the same issue as “personal responsibility” as libertarians see it, or as following through with the consequences of one’s “choices” (like having children).  There are some responsibilities (filial) we will have anyway, and that observation could have a profound effect on how we see marriage.  Yet, that point got completely overlooked in the gay marriage debate. 

I got started in publishing and later blogging over a single issue, “gays in the military” (aka “don’t ask don’t tell”), how that related to conscription in the past, and how that related to all our ideas of individual liberty and balancing those to the needs of the group.  That issue seems largely settled today (maybe not enough for complacency), but two biggies that I have found (power grid, filial responsibility) seem now centric to my attention.
  
I can reflect also on how we see the “urgency” of issues.  The power issue I mention today is partly technical, and lends itself to objective examination, outside of the parameters of group emotions or moral ideology.  That assessment needs to happen quickly.  On the other hand, we often see politicians and pundits claiming that society will collapse when some new “rights” are recognized or reinterpreted in a new way.  No, heterosexual marriage won’t collapse because of gay marriage, and neither will “society”.  But  a technological future, so promising for democracy and equality, as outlined in the book from Google’s former CEO, could take a huge setback if we don’t tend to  our infrastructure now – and in that sense, the continued sequestration (the way it plays out) amounts to a serious national security problem.  And there is a moral issue that impacts individuals like me – our resilience, our ability to step up to the needs of others when we really have to.  Without that expectation from us, “meaning” starts to become diffuse, others make real sacrifices, and indignation and instability grows, sometimes to the point of being dangerous.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

High school off-campus online "beauty" ranking content raises free speech, ethical questions


A “beauty” contest (of sorts) conducted online and “off campus” a Seattle high school (Issaquah) will be seen by some as a test of the limits of free speech.
  
It’s called “May Madness”, in which students (usually boys) “rank” photos of the high school’s “hottest” female students. 
  
At the beginning of the film “The Social Network”, a caricature of Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg is shown writing a system to do just that with Harvard co-eds (Movies blog, Oct. 3, 2010). 
   
School officials say there is nothing they can do about it, since it happens off-campus.
  
NBC Today has a story by Lauren Ina here
  
KING5 in Seattle offered this YouTube video:

  
The television station also offers this story
  
This does seem to be an example of “social combat” that leads to bullying. It would not be as much of a problem if “contestants” were asked for permission for their photos to be ranked first.
  
In a chess tournament, you can’t get rated until you actually play, and make a choice to.  (Oh, but there aren’t enough events that aren’t rated by USCF, but that’s another matter for later).
  
There’s an existential problem with the idea of “ranking” people.  Of course, that what schools do when they give grades (and remember how that used to affect the military draft back in the 1960s?)  Arvin Vohra mentioned the “ranking” issue in his recent book (see Books blog, April 19). 
   
But what is supposed to happen to those who wind up in “the second division” (to borrow a Major League Baseball term from the 1950s)?  Do they do what others tell them to do?  Is this about power?  It sounds like the roots of authoritarianism.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ninth Circuit deals blow to copyright trolls (Righthaven cases)

Tech Dirt (and other sources like EFF) reports that an appeals court (the Ninth Circuit) has ruled that a copyright owner could not simply transfer the right to sue over to a law frim (Righthaven) without transferring over other rights, to publish and distribute.  That means that the “copyright troll” business model of Righthaven cannot stand up in court, at least in the Ninth Circuit.  I don’t think there are any other conflicting rulings in other circuits, and it is very unlikely that the Supreme Court would disagree with the Ninth Circuit in this case. ‘
  
Just saying you own the copyright doesn’t make it so.  You really have to own all the rights  A secret back-door agreement can invalidate your rights.
   
Tech dirt has the story here

Can we get a similar ruling for patent trolls?
   
The court did invalidate a finding that reproducing a whole article could be “Fair Use”, because it said that it did not need that finding.  It does not preclude that finding in another case where it might be procedurally necessary.

Here’s a panel discussion from the Media Bloggers Association lawyer Ron Coleman a year ago.

  
Bloggers can’t file amicus briefs on their own, but need a legal group to do it for them.  I can’t find an active site for MBA right now, but it does have a Facebook site, here

Thursday, May 09, 2013

New York Times modifies paywall to exempt videos; Dish and Washington Post go to paywalls


Newspapers are starting to experiment more with their paywalls. 
  
The New York Times has tightened loopholes (“NYClean”, regarding “bookmark-lets”) but will soon exempt video from the paywall, as it tries to become a more video friendly outlet.  It says it will build franchises around brands connected to the paper.  The content will be developed by Acura and Microsoft (and Bing).  “Paid Content” has a story here
  
Andrew Sullivan has started a $1.99 a month content payment policy for his site, The Dish, and says that the Dish actually needs to raise $900,000 to operate.  It appears that when individual journalists have columns on corporate sites, their "sponsors" expect them to bring in certain specified amounts of revenue -- that's how it works.  You can find the subscription link at the top of the page, here. It’s also “only” $19.99 a year.
   
And The Washington Post has announced it will launch a “leaky” paywall this summer.  The paywall will not count visits that come from Google or social media, and exempt some categories of people.
The Post has its story here

The start date for the paywall policy was not provided yet.

The Post does charge for some archived articles, as do many papers. 


According to the video above, the New York Daily News is also considering a paywall.

As a practical matter, paywalls don’t matter much to people with paid home subscriptions, because they are usually included in some sort of arrangement.  But some people don’t like home subscriptions because of the potential security problems – of having to stop them to go away, and with recent stories (in the LA area) of vacation stops leaking to burglars through distribution channels.  Some papers have tightened their procedures for handling stops for this reason, requiring sooner notification.  Some authorities  think it is important to have the social neighborhood connections (“social capital”) to get neighbors to remove newspapers or unwanted  commercial or political fliers from homes. (USPS stop mail delivery seems very secure.)

Many smaller town newspapers have put in paywalls, which sounds self-defeating as major stories are usually available from larger news organizations. One problem is that most people cannot reasonably subscribe to many smaller local papers, so it is harder for anyone to keep up with local news in many different areas. 
  
My blogs to link to papers that have paywalls.  Users are responsible for being able to access the links, either by staying within a free limit, or having paid the piper. 
  
Youtube embeds are usually free, however, except for some complete motion pictures which can be rented for low fees for viewing,  

I'm in "no position" to consider the same measure as Mr. Sullivan.  But after I get farther in my own content plans, it seems possible I could "join forces" with some others, and strategies could change.  But nothing now.  

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Data brokers have an indirect but serious effect on "online reputation"; FTC runs a "sting"


“Online reputation”, the way pundits have discussed the problem in terms of social media exposure, may be overridden by data collection companies, according to a story by Craig Timberg on p A10 of the Washington Post on Wednesday, May 08, 2013. Federal Trade Commission employees posed as potential customers in a civil “sting”. The link for the story (“Data brokerage industry warned on privacy rules”) is here

The FTC has its own press release on the matter, here

The companies accumulate data on consumers from a variety of sources, including credit reports and public records, as well as social media.  Because of identity theft, there is a risk that much of the information is wrong.  Information is marketed to various kinds of clients, often for offers. But  it can also be used to build off-site blacklists for insurance, housing and employment.

The list of affected companies includes 4Nannies (regarded to nanny employment), Brokers Data, Case Breakers, ConsumerBase, Criminal Check, People Search, Now, U.S. Information Search, U.S. Data Corporation, and USA People Search.
  
Here’s a YouTube video by KMIR6 (Palm Springs CA) on data brokers, from March 2013.

  
Some of the reputational issues that these companies can pose would have predated the Internet.  Yet, I did not encounter problems from them myself during most of my own adult life