Thursday, May 29, 2014

Federal circuit limits copyright trolls in aggregating lawsuits


Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting a major victory in the Federal Circuit (in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals) limiting the ability of “copyright trolls” to aggregate defendants in one suit (usually involving file sharing and P2P).  Mitch Stoltz explains the decision with opinion link here
   
The litigant was Prenda Law (AF Holdings v. Does 1-1058), which reportedly tried to force ISP’s to provide the identities of persons or parties who had used connections associated with IP address.  The federal circuit ruled that defendants can be assembled into one suit only when they used the same resource at the same time.  Also the court apparently ruled that plaintiffs have to take more steps to determine where defendants actually are located geographically. 

EFF has also been discussing the issue of any potential downstream liability for copyright for offering WiFi connections.  The DMCA Safe Harbor limits downstream liability for publication service providers, but right now it doesn’t make much sense that a coffee shop or motel offering WiFi could be held liable for illegal downloads by customers.  I guess I could wonder what would happen if a hotel offered P2P itself in a business center, but it wouldn’t have any control over what is on a guest’s laptop or tablet.  I’m just back from a trip myself.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FTC wants Congress to let it regulate data brokers, let consumers control information "onboarded" about them


The Federal Trade Commission is recommending that Congress pass legislation requiring data brokers to become more transparent and let consumers control what is kept about them, an enlargement of “do not track”.  The Press Release is here



The Washington Post has a detailed front page story by Craig Timberg, Wednesday, May 28, 2014, “What do firms know about you? FTC would pull back the curtain,” link here.  A relevant term is “onboarding”, which allows retailers to load external information to broker profiles.  For example, when I visit an AMC or Regal cinema site, my cookie probably tells the site that I have loyalty cards for both chains.  I haven’t notice that this affects the ads I see.  But I have noticed when I travel (as I just returned from a trip to the South) that even on a notebook computer (not just my cell phone and iPad) websites seem to know where I am.  I see ads for the city or area in which I am staying.  It’s conceivable that this could become a home security issue after hacking.   

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Privacy through obscurity" is no longer realistic, even in Europe (or on Europa Mars, or Titan).


There are a couple of partially contrasting takes on “the right to forget” in major newspapers Tuesday. In the Washington Post, on p. A15. Craig A. Newman writes “Europe’s ruling may cost dearly,” titled more specifically online, “A ‘right to be forgotten ruling’ will cost Europe”, link here.  Newman argues that the European court made matters worse by leaving the interpretation of the “right” to search engine companies.  Smaller startups simply won’t “conceive” in Europe; innovation, growth, and jobs will stagnate somewhat as a result.
  


In the New York Times, in a column in “The Upshot” Claire Cain Miller has an article “On your permanent record: It’s not as simple as asking to ‘be forgotten’ by Google”, link here.  Cain reports that technology experts are calling for “new standards of online etiquette and responsibility”.  That’s pretty nebulous.  Cain suggests that new kinds of private detective services would evolve.   In the past, an obscure fact in a technically public record took a lot of legwork, maybe private detectives, to unearth.  Plenty of 1940s movies have this sort of plotting.  Now, any self-publisher, even like me, with no gatekeeper and no real answerability, can make someone else notable.  That sounds like opportunity but for some people it represents a challenge.  On three occasions (in 2001 and 2006), individuals asked me to remove their names or (in one case) a partially edited article that the person had written (on 2001, removed in 2003).  In one case, I simply changed a name to initials in the online HTML copy of my first book, but it still could be found in Google Book Search if someone really wanted to find it (rather unlikely in practice).  These cases were unusual and quirky enough (and not likely repeatable) that I had no problem with complying. But Cain also argues that "privacy through obscurity" is not a realistic idea any more.  You may need a public presence to prevent others from defining you.  If, as Eric Schmidt said, if you're doing something you don't want people to know about, maybe you shouldn't be doing it.  Well, can people perform telepathy on your dreams and fantasies?  It may happen more that you thing,

Monday, May 26, 2014

Implicit content, the absence of gatekeepers, distribution of free speech, and integrity


It is certainly true, that I have built my “second career” (after my semi-forced retirement from legacy IT at the end of 2001) based on broadcast speech, without the regulation or supervision of any third-party gatekeeper.  That was a critical aspect of my affidavit for the COPA trial back in 2006.  Although the Supreme Court has been very supportive of the concept generally as constitutionally protected, I think I am somewhat lucky that the Internet developed with the did, with the mass of self-publishing and free search engine indexing in the early (Web 1.0) days.  The legal environment  evolved with Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor, largely relieving service providers the responsibility of supervising speech, increasing the risk to more vulnerable users of the web.


I have outlined the various parts of my media plan (including screenplays, fiction, music, and a master video, above the blogs).  This is my “homework”.  As I have noted, I get pressure by people from all kinds of directions to do something else.  One angle is to focus just on selling books, another ads.  One concept is that self-broadcast may not be morally legitimate unless it can pay for itself with its own revenues, even though the speaker has (possibly inherits, or derives from previous career savings) other resources.  A second is to join a cause, or hock someone else’s wares rather than my own. Another angle is that one should not enter into punditry unless one experiences personally the responsibility for others that leads to considerable challenge and hard-to-control risk of hardship, “real life” (as my mother called it) for most people.  Giving back seems like a moral imperative.  But I find I cannot give in an interpersonal way until I’ve done my own homework, have my own oeuvres. I can't make someone else "all right" or join someone's emotional world; I can only bank on what I can actually do.  There is behind this idea, however, a background in everyday skills, some of which I did not pick up, that have to do with proving for others.  It’s arguable that everyone should have these, even people who don’t have their own children.  Putting all this together, I can see where a lot of the contacts are heading:  give up your own message, hock what you did (I worked on life insurance systems for twelve years) and prove you can provide for a family like everybody else – even OPC, “other people’s children.”  Putin would love this.


One of the most troubling developments in my practice has been the “implicit content” problem.  I’ve explained before how that came up with my substitute teaching.  I do present personal material that can be interpreted as confessional, or putting me in a bad light.  I can say that my purpose is to show irony, perhaps a dangerous luxury. When there is no other obvious motive for the material (like having been paid for it or actually making money from it), a less mature reader might, taking the material out of context, interpret it as enticement.  That was the issue the substitute teacher incident presented here July 27, 2007.  In that event, I would maintain I had freedom of speech as a public employee (as long as it wasn't illegal) and since I had a low-level position, there was no conflict of interest.  But the school could say I have to avoid speech that even metaphorically could cast aspersions on my fitness to be with kids,  but that is a very subject standard. Consider how that would have compared to "don't ask don' tell" in the military in the past.  The advent of social media, particularly Facebook, has pretty much made the "double life" obsolete. 

Why, one may ask, stir things up and keep playing the devil’s advocate?  For one thing, I think I am an effective history teacher, for younger adults, often more privileged (younger gay men in particular) who don’t understand what it was like in the past, and particularly, why it was the way it was.  Society used to be much more collective. (The diagram above of Chickasaw living abodes along the Natchez Trace in Mississippi makes the point.)  Interdependence was not avoidable.  And even today, in an open society, there is real tension between individualism and fairness (and hidden bad karma) which can lead to instability.  At some level, one can be brought low because of the indignation of others, both as an individual and as a whole people.  As much as I broadcast “personal responsibility” (like SouthPark), we have to accept that at any point we are what we are, even if others wronged us gravely.  Talking about victimhood never goes anywhere.


There are aspects in my writings that could be troubling, such as the talk about how easily some (straight) men are unnerved when made conscious of their own shortcomings by people (like me) stepping on their toes to “hit back”.  Over ten years ago, I did get a few email or forum comments about a couple of my movie and book reviews from a couple people really off the rails. (In 2000, someone was upset by my reviewing “A Perfect Storm” when Sebastian Junger wrote the book.)  That hasn’t happened since.  (I have gotten a few terror tips, as bloggers sometimes do, including one about OBL, and, any claims about journalist shield notwithstanding, shared them with authorities.)

If someone else did something terrible (I’m thinking of the tragedy in Santa Barbara CA this weekend as an example), and claimed he had been upset or unnerved (as in his own self-image about sexuality) by my own “gatekeeper-less” speech, I wonder if there could be any liability for me.  In the US, I don’t think so (and I think I would have won the substitute teaching issue had a litigated, however riskily); overseas, even in western Europe, it could be a different matter.  Nothing like this has ever come up.  If someone (like the authorities) actually believes an issue like this has actually occurred, the right thing to do is call me by cell phone (“doaskdotell.com” contact link).  Leave a specific and clear message.  I don’t answer while driving.  But I pull over and return serious calls promptly,



Implicit content, in the absence of gatekeeping, may be a sleeping big dog.  


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Some young men cannot handle societal expectations of them


The latest rampage, by Elliot Rodger, near Santa Barbara CA, seems to have been motivated by his resentment that “life isn’t fair.”   I’ve been in that area before (when I went to discuss my first book at DADT with a UCSB professor) so it could have happened to me.  This seems a little more personal.  CNN has a detailed story and link to the “manifesto” and transcript, so we’ll let CNN give us the exact words, here

There have been “manifestos” before (the Unabomer, Virginia Tech) and email or social media trails (Boston, Sandy Hook), so the word “manifesto” seems to get a bad rap. But, of course, we can learn a lot from reading personal accounts how social expectations and supposed “moral teachings” play out in different lives.  

As for "popularity", that's never mattered too much for me. As for content, I care more about how original and complete it is, not how many hits it gets or how it is monetize. I don't think that counts of social media friends and followers should mean too much (although the whitelisting concept matters). We are simply too preoccupied with bean counters.  I can see that from the solicitations I get all the time, 


Young men in almost any culture are challenged to prove they can “compete” to have and provide for an protect children, through women, usually (as society generally expects) through marriage.  Nature has a lot of chance involved.  Mere logic says that some men are bigger and stronger than others. (Yes, tall men are sometimes perceived to have an advantage.)  In natural world, that’s survival of the fittest.  (I’m remembering right now a TV documentary where a Canadian zoologist won the favor of the alpha male of a lion pride so he could film it.  As long as he was around, the king male was much less aggressive around other males.  Interesting.) In human society, we have to learn to value diversity.  That leads to individual freedom, but the exercise of sovereign personal freedom invokes some moral paradoxes.  Freedom needs to be used to find and cultivate value in others  where the majority doesn’t always see it.  I know from my own track in life, that is daunting. (Sometimes other people’s children matter more than having you own, for example.)  I also know that I cannot yield to coercion. That sets up another paradox. 
Some observers called the perpetrator's behavior a kind of "injustice collecting", as discussed in Psychology Today here

Friday, May 23, 2014

House pays lip service to limiting NSA


The House of Representatives has passed a bill limiting the ability of the NSA to spy on contents without warrants, but was unwilling to intervene in the way the secret FISA court operates.  The Los Angeles Times has a story by Lisa Mascaro here

The LA Times characterized the surveillance as “dragnet style”, as after the famous TV program with Jack Webb from the 1950s (and at least one film, which my parents let me see alone).  “It was warm in Los Angeles…”

 Technology companies are concerned that that the “selection criteria” for searches still can be very broad. 
Tyler Hurden, of Zero Hedge, called the bill “gutted beyond recognition”, link here

I don’t think this changes much of anything. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Say yes", sometimes (and not "yeth")


Once a journalist, always a journalist.  Once a blogger, likewise.  And especially, once a pundit, always one.  You can never jump ship and become a huckster.  Since you can't pimp partisan candidate, it's pretty hard to run for office yourself and expect people to raise money for you.
        
That all means you can’t drop everything and join someone’s particular agenda, no matter how much public sympathy it generates.

But to sell yourself to others, if for no other reason, you have to walk in other people’s shoes, at least sometimes.  You have to become good at things.  You have to be able to just “say yes” sometimes.  (I have a different take on that line than when requested by Shane Lyons in “Judas Kiss”.)  You have to give back, at least if you ever got something without earning it (most of us did), because morality demands it (and so does social stability).  It’s the emotion that is difficult, and the idea of openness to relationships that demand more complementarity and less affiliation.


I think the speech by Navy Seal William H. McCraven for commencement at the University of Texas is “food thought”.  Why “making you bed” is important, why the little things are important, why life isn’t fair, why we need resilience, Scott Stump’s  coverage in USA Today here.

So where am I in progress toward my “Breakpoint” (May 8).  I’ve got the “Angels” novel to do. Some of that has to do with dealing how much each of the two protagonist characters know, an how they learned it.  Some of it deals with how much is “true” for the reality layer of the novel, and how much is “inception” from the character Bill’s subnovels.  I still need to work up the "big two" remaining screenplays, and map out a "final exam" autobiographical video. This all should be done by the end of June.


All journalists know that they have to protect their integrity, and avoid being drawn into supporting specific causes that don't represent the scope of their work, requiring objectivity.  I wonder what is said about this behind closed doors in the established press, including gay press.  "Amateur" journalists may find even more difficulty defending their independence when challenged by others who want to exploit their lack of gatekeepers.  There are lines that can't be crossed.  For example. to pick an extreme, worst-case example, no journalist could take advantage of a witness protection program if ever threatened.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fibbie "chilling effect" on banks doing business with gun sellers sets a bad example for the Internet ("know thy customer")


The Washington Times is reporting that many banks are refusing to allow gun retailers, wholesalers, or parts suppliers to continue to do business with them, especially if the businesses use alternate payment processor systems like PayPal (or use bitcoin).  The story (Monday) is here
  
The banks fear that that they will have “reputation damage” in the eyes of investors because of unusual scrutiny from the DOJ under supposed “know your customer” rules and philosophy.
  
The same problem occurs with porn businesses, and banks have generally been reluctant to deal with “legal” marijuana retailers in states like Colorado, making it a cash business with enormous security problems.  Yet, these same banks, during the period of low farm prices in the early 1990s, often secretly encouraged clandestine and illegal marijuana growing by farmers to keep from default on loans.
  

This strikes me as important according to precedent.  Suppose the same paradigm applied to the Internet.  Then there would be no Section 230, no Safe Harbor (DMCA), and all content service providers would have to “protect” the public by prescreening content.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A School Board election caucus, and some deja vu: can journalists and bloggers run for office?


Today, I did go to the Arlington County Democratic Committee School Board Caucus link at Washington-Lee High School, from which I graduated in 1961. 

The parking was a mess, as one major lot entrance was closed for a cycling class, so the event wasn’t planned that well.

A Caucus takes more time than a regular election.  You fill out a form, get verified, and get a paper ballot to rank the candidates in order or preference.  If you want to be sure your vote counts fully, you would have to stay around all day to see if there is a runoff.

The candidates were there, all well dressed and greeting voters, as were their volunteers.  And there were plenty of volunteers for the Party running the caucus.  There seemed to be some high school students, or possibly some college undergraduates returning right after spring semester finals.  That’s probably a nice way to start the summer.

I wondered about the whole process of running for a local election (let alone a state or national one), pimping to get people to give you money, and volunteer time.  That’s something journalists can’t do.  Yet I sometimes get questions from people as to why I won’t do that.

I did get to speak to one candidate after the election, Barbara Kanninen, who did a photo op with me.  I talked about the issues for substitute teachers, as I experienced the job from 2004-2007.  A lot of my most important coverage of the issue is on the July 2007 archive for this blog.  This day, although a Saturday, brought back some déjà vu. 
Update: May 18

Kanninen has been reported to have won the first slot in the caucus. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

EU Court ruling will probably complicate search engine, web service business in the US; debate on "right to be forgotten" will surely spread as an online reputation issue


The US media is hopping this morning over a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg, that would give individuals the right to request search engine companies (like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!) to remove links to “old” stories about them on the Internet, if the stories were no longer of any valid public interest.  This could not be done for celebrities.  It does not apply to the United States or to residents of countries outside the EU.  I provided a detailed story yesterday on my International Issues Blog with a link to the official EU press release.  The US media stories refer to this as a “right to be forgotten” which is reportedly stronger in Europe than in the US. Nevertheless, I reviewed a book “Delete” by Mayer-Schoenberger on May 13, 2010 on the Books blog.  
   
The New York Times has a moderate editorial (“Ordering Google to Forget”) on the matter this, link here.   It links to the print story “European Court lets users erase records on web; Purged from Google; A fear that search will show only what the target wants” (David Stretifeld).  The Washington Post, in a story by Craig Timberg and Michael Birnbaum, writes “Ruling in E.U. may roil the Web; Court deals blow to tech firms; Citizens can demand that Google delete links”, and Hayley Tsukayama writes on the Switch blog about the difference between European and US attitudes toward privacy, link here.  In the Wall Street Journal, Jacob Gershman writes “E.U. Google ruling could make it harder to find information online”, link here. The WSJ refers to the European tradition of settling honor by duels, after which gripes could be “forgotten”. Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a piece by Sanny O'Brien, discusses the EU's attempted "scattergun censorship", trying to hide legally published facts on the public record in plain sight. 
  
The ruling could lead to many specific requests from Europeans, many of them frivolous.  The tech companies could have to bear a large cost with no obvious way to pay for it.  It could have an effect on their business model regarding user-generated content in the future, even in the US.


I do not expect that deletion of search results would affect traffic to my own sites and blogs in any significant way.  However, I can imagine other questions.  Although the EU ruling right now applies only to search engines, could it be extended to reference sites like Wikipedia, or even sites that purport to organize news commentary and provide some partial indexing of it (like my “do ask do tell”, or Vox Media, with its aggressive approach in this direction).   

I have, on just three occasions that I can recall, removed or altered content on my sites at the request of individuals because of unusual and non-recurring circumstances.  On one occasion, I removed a name from an article;  on another, I replaced a name with initials in a web copy of my first book.  I removed one article written by someone else and posted with permission in 2001 when he later asked me to remove it, and there was some question of factual correctness in that case.  (That is the only time I have ever removed an entire article.)  There have been no further such occurrences since 2006.  I could imagine an issue with images or public pictures, but they would be searchable only if they have been tagged (very unlikely in my operation).  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Members of Congress sign on to "voluntary" anti-piracy blacklist for advertisers; "It's free" still doesn't cut it with the MPAA


Remember SOPA?  And Protect-IP?  Some of this is back again, as a group of US Senators and Representatives are asking advertising networks to create a blacklist of alleged “piracy” websites and refuse to advertise on them.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article by Mitch Stoltz, link here

EFF says that such activity would violate anti-trust laws.

The MPAA has a “policy focus” (link) on voluntary efforts that would help with the “piracy puzzle” as discussed in hearings before the House Judiciary Committee.  

I actually try to review films from theatrical presentations (including festivals), DVD, or legal instant play as soon as possible.  I do get invited to review films from free private Vimeo screenings and advance DVD’s.


Yet, I’m not against watching an older film “free” on YouTube, even if I suspect infringement, if I can’t find a legal copy.  You’d be surprised how often this happens.  There are numerous examples that I know of where I would welcome that a for-purchase DVD or Instant Play copy be available to have permanently, rather than depending on free-stuff that can disappear any time.  If you want to protect your older content, make it easy to buy legally and price it reasonably.  (That is what is good about Kindle and iTunes.)   Do the customer service.  But, true, most things in life are not free (see Feb. 23, 2013).  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Snark, unchecked, can lead to instability: an irony of free speech


I’ve addressed the Donald Sterling situation before, including the questionable way in which the comments were made public.  I can certainly say that if I had an “intimate” or “romantic” relationship with someone or wanted that kind of relation with anyone, I cannot imagine speaking to such a person (whom by definition I would admire or affiliate “upward” with) in that manner, even in the most private circumstances.  His subsequent comments are filled with logical contradictions, which I suspect will continue tonight in front of Anderson Cooper. It is striking to me, and hard to process, that "you" can provide for someone, say you love him or her (sort of, as like a pet) and still talk the person (singular or plural) as inferior to you.  I don't process that in my own situations.  
There’s a bigger question, about the “sticks and stones” proverb.  Words can really hurt you.  It does seem now that expression of certain attitudes (maybe race is the most obvious but not the only issue) from people with any kind of public prominence or influence has indeed become unacceptable.  Insults can be harmful.  We wonder why they are met with such violence in other parts of the world (especially from radical Islam), sometimes brought to our shores. 

I think that an “insult”, at least one which suggests that the target of the insult is less than equal to other human beings, even if his or her life is still “valuable” as a human being’s in some abstract sense, tends to make those of less fortunate backgrounds have less confidence that they can get a fair shake or (as Elizabeth Warren writes, in a book yet to be reviewed. “A Fighting Chance”) in an open, progressive, and (or but) individualistic (possibly hyperindividualistic) society.  (Something suddenly comes to mind: when I was a graduate assistant instructor teaching remedial algebra at the University of Kansas in 1966, I was admonished, “You’ve lost the confidence of your students.” Another little incident where I insulted a bartender with a recklessly small tip in NYC around 1976 comes to mind.  So does a particularly disturbing incident in gym class in ninth grade in 1958, described in some detail in Chapter 1 of my first book.)  This loss of belief that the world can somehow become “fair” enough tends to lead to instability, and contributes to increasingly brazen crimes sometimes.

The gay male community is capable of catty personal behavior sometimes, in mimicry or mockery of the taunts and behaviors that they have individually endured.  It has been common, for example, for gay men among themselves to make comments about the sexual attractiveness of others, or say things like “He can do better than that.”  In fact, straight men used to say this about other men’s girl friends.  I’ve heard this in the workplace.  (I’ve also heard remarks about professional football players that would be considered rabidly racist today but that were perfectly acceptable in Dallas, Texas in the early 1980s.)  Even today, in movie reviews, I sometimes make comments about characters or actors that reflect those sentiments, as if everyone believed them at some level.   Yet, I wonder. Suppose I were a manager with direct reports in the workplace, or a teacher with the authority to grade students.  Someone finds the remarks, which used to be acceptable and commonplace, and wonders if “I” will think less of them as someone with the authority to grade them or influence the course of their lives.   Suddenly, irony becomes snarky. This problem was evolving for several years before Facebook was commonly used. It had a bearing on my own course as a substitute teacher.

There is an irony in all of this.  We have the right to reject people, to give and withhold consent for relationships, and express our values.  Yet, sometimes these values reflect the authoritarian or overly-meritocratic culture in which we were raised which, frankly, wasn’t very willing to take fortune into account. When freely expressed today, they can boomerang. In the wrong hands, they can lead right back to a totalitarian state – even though I can see the arguments that the problems recurring overseas today are more the result of nationalistic, imperialistic and religious conflicts over generations than just personal values.

The “snark” factor is what therapists called “stepping on their toes” when “treating” me in 1962.  I had been led to feel inadequate, but my “behavior” (perhaps retaliatory) was seen as intended to make other men feel less confident that they could date, marry and procreate themselves. (If I was already “fallen”, they could very well “fall” too.)  That’s one of the biggest reasons why homophobia exists.  No wonder rogue or calculating politicians can use it as a diversion.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

An accidental Mother's Day message; can you "make it on your own"?


I caught an interesting televangelist sermon on ABC this Mother’s Day, “Leaving a Godly Inheritance”, by Charles Stanley, link here. The topic is certainly relevant to me given how I “landed” at the end of 2010.

I won’t get into the specifically religious aspects of the sermon, but he did say a couple of things that were very important.  One of these is “You didn’t succeed entirely by your own efforts.  You didn’t get there by yourself. You had a mother to serve you.”  Does this fit in to the idea of service as “who you are” (April 1)?  It sounds like it.

Yet, I think service is a way to sell oneself, maybe even a necessary part.  But it has to do with the focus on what “you” can do, before there is too much concern on who the other person is.  It is very hard in practice to differentiate between needs and shortcomings.

  

Friday, May 09, 2014

Internet consumers find that their "profiles" affect the prices they are offered.


Online retail website prices offered to consumers vary according to demographic and profile information about the consumer available to retailers, a recent story in the Wall Street Journal and on ABC News Thursday night says.  The WSJ story, by Jennifer Valentino-Devries, Jeremy Singer-Vine and Ashkan Soltani is here.  One retailer mentioned was Staples. 
  
Demographics include zipcode, age, marital status, and possible social media behavior. 

The biggest concern might be that differential pricing will erase advantages to consumers of Internet shopping, where everyday items in rural areas cost more because of lack of competition.  Monday, I found that to be the case, as I drove along US29 south of Charlottesville and found almost no businesses at all for thirty miles;  the one small gas station did not have an operating restroom and relatively few attractive snack items inside.  The “boonies” really can have this problem.  I remember encountering this sort of thing in tidewater North Carolina (“David Lynch Pee-Dee country”) one time.  

But Likeonomics could enter into the picture. I wonder if this can affect the “best offers” on Priceline for airfares and hotels.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Progress toward my own next "Breakpoint"


So, what are the “pressures” I get from the outside world these days?

Well, from my on-demand publisher, it’s to become aggressive specifically in selling books. 

From social and church-related circles from my background, it’s to become more committed to other people’s ends (faith trumps everything), or to join up and give of “myself” in service.  The latter is quite heavy, that “service” becomes something “you are” (April 1). 

For me to move into these areas in a meaningful way, I’ve said I need to “finish my homework” first.  That’s moving, slowly, on the Wordpress blogs.  Right now, I’m in the middle of reviewing the fiction manuscripts I have developed since about 2000, much of the material before 2005.  There is a novel “Tribunal and Rapture II”, seen from the eyes of a retired fibbie who thinks he was abducted once.  There’s a novella “Rain on the Snow” where “Bill” goes to an “Academy” for job retraining after a layoff and meets a charismatic figure who may be an “alien”, and winds up in jail, only to escape just before “Armageddon”.  There is a longer manuscript that puts these together.  And then there is the more recent “Angel’s Brothers” (mostly from about 2007), seen from the viewpoint of a late thirtyish but fit “family” man, with a covert CIA job and a day job teaching history, who meets an unusually charismatic college student (different from the one in “Rain”).  But this novel will “encapsulate” a combination of the first two novels as a “backstory”, embedded in a manuscript by the “Bill” character.  Complicated enough?  There’s a lot to sort out.  I think I will have gotten through this by the first week of June. There are about eight more "big" Wordpress postings to do.
     
 There are at least three important screenplays.  One of them is a story told from the viewpoint of a reporter in Dallas who believes his fiancée has been abducted.  The trouble is, he plays on the side.  But the evidence points to a real encounter with aliens, publicly, and what that would mean. 
  
Another screenplay has a character, me, finding himself in a bizarre hospital setting, and then in an intentional community.  At first, “Bill” doesn’t know if he is in the afterlife, having a job interview, or even in jail. Gradually, as he negotiates his re-education, he realizes he is on another world, but in return for learning his lessons, he will get to judge who gets to become an angel. 

And, there is the “music” (as I described on April 23).  And there is the idea of a documentary video, which starts from scratch, and does not have (like my third DADT book) have to build on what is out there already.

The documentary would go like this:  I think a central question is, how those of us who perceive ourselves (and are perceived by others) as “different” should behave.  It’s a moral question, and it deals with karma. As libertarians know, it’s not (or no longer) a legal one too much, as laws shouldn’t try to deal with this (you see what happens in Russia).  But there is a certain kind of bearing and self-deployment that can be sold to others in an open society, and a lot of behavior and personal motivation that will not fly.  

I has pondered the best format for such a video.  It could start with a summary of my life (like one of Dvorak’s string quartets), with its looks and crannies, presented like a map on a board game, with lots of still shots and videos of the real places where stuff happened (like at William and Mary, NIH, the Army, etc).  Maybe that takes 15 minutes.  It assumes the viewer hasn’t read the books. 

The narrative produces a list or set of things that have been expected or even demanded of me, at various points in my life (especially early and late, not so much the middle) in terms of socialization (or call it “radical hospitality” and “radical solidarity”).  Soon we enter the world of sexual orientation.  As I wrote on a post on the GLBT blog May 6, we need to understand the “perfect world” of traditional marriage, as “social conservatives” see it, as generating sustainability.  Marriage, in their world, is in a continuous feedback loop with a more pervasive capacity of everyone – including young and old people before and after having families (or sometimes never having their own families) to experience personal complementarity and actually let it mean something.  “Complementarity” requires more self-giving than “polarity” because it involves helping people with adaptive needs, not just growing psychological surplus (as in Rosenfels terms). Readiness for people to do this on a personal level does have "global" implications for sustainability/ 
It’s fair to ask, what am I going to do about all of this when “it gets personal”?  As I said, I need to reach a breakpoint before I get into new discussions with other parties – finishing the evaluations above are the major piece to finish.  (Otherwise I never get it done.)   And, I must note, I perceive conflicting signals from others.  Some want me to join their causes and because an obedient foot soldier, but dedicated to the “needs” of the group (often bureaucratically implemented) rather than myself.  But some want to see more “personal contact” with others in actual need, not just those in my own “cognitive circle”.  There is some tension between these two approaches. As to the desire to see personal contact, I perceive mixed and contradictory signals from others, sometimes.  It is a challenge for someone who did not have his own family, and for whom some options possible today (like same-sex marriage on the horizon) simply weren’t feasible in my time.  Would I have been capable of staying in one relationship for a few decades and maintain passion and accept “the family bed”?



What can I do about this as I navigate the Breakpoint (which also involves some remaining travel, as getting news on my own is still a top piroirty)?  I would like to think I could use the skills I have.  That could include music (piano) and getting back into chess, so I could actually be a “role model” in my own way.  In the area of chess, there are not enough opportunities to practice and play non-USCF rated games, without possibly going to NYC and playing “rehab” in some Village per-hour chess parlors. 

There are things that I can do “within the cognitive circle” (building on what I said April 23).  I can look at “pimping” Kickstarter, not for my own media projects, but for related media projects from others (“American Lynching” from Gode Davis comes to mind).   There would be some opportunities within the music circle, which could lead to fragments of my own compositions being performed publicly by others.

“Adaptively”, a few things stand out.  Yes, I “inherited” a house (there are legal technicalities beyond scope here).  Taking care of an older home, with its vulnerabilities, especially to storms, is more a job for a family, for someone raising a family and enlisting other people.  It’s not easy to drop what I’m doing and downsize quickly (given the contacts that I get), but that raises an obvious “moral” question.  Should those who “have” be expected to make the effort to house the “have nots”, especially after increasingly frequent natural disasters?  There is some synergy:  if you’re prepared for “radical hospitality” the people you would really want might come.  (Gode Davis actually needed a place to stay when he came to DC in 2005 to film at the Capitol, and with my mother’s situation, I could not offer it then.)



  

Monday, May 05, 2014

"Lookism", explained by Vox Media, and then some


Today, when I returned from a long day trip (more stuff tomorrow on it), I found a tweet from Ezra Klein of Vox Media in Washington DC, “When a trim, handsome guy repeatedly mocks a fat man for being fat on TV, it’s bullying plain and simple”, with a link to the story “Stop making fun of Christie for being fat”. A friend who sometimes works in the GOP establishment says to me about Christie “He’s too fat”, while lamenting the difficulty in the GOP of finding a candidate intellectually qualified and cognitively for the job of president, which he thinks Christie definitely is (although the friend wants Guiliai to run, and even campaign in drag if it helps).   And, yes, Christie is likeable, sort of like the hero of the Sopranos (Galdofini), chuckle.  And maybe he just did let the “Traffic Jam” scandal get away from him, accidentally.  (Reid Ewing, who is quite super-trim in the “10 Rules” movie (Movies blog, April 24), had already made his own short film musical video “Traffic Jam” about three years before.  Christie’s blunder should help his career.  And, oh yes, some baseball players are quite trim, like the Nats’ Stephen Strasburg.)
  
Back in 1999, I upset a friend I had made in the fight against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” by noticing his sudden paunch and commenting at a gay pride march.  I remember an email from him about a month later decrying my own lookism, which haunts the gay community. "You should be more mature ... what a way to greet someone."

At the same time, the media his hyping the obesity problem, warning that one third of young people know will be medically obese in early adulthood. 

In fact, it’s on disco floors where you don’t see this problem, because lookism matters very much “in the bars”.  Slender and thin is in there.  But “lookism” very much feeds the cultural wars, and in international circles these are getting very serious right now.  

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Sunday school: we've become less sociable, but Facebook et al can turn the tables still


Once again, some controversy in a Sunday School lesson.  It was centered on the story of Jonah, the Whale, his disobedience, his journey to Spain by sea, his being swallowed up and then vomited by a whale (not likely, and hardly free fish), and the idea that his presence on the boat bringing him back made him a liability other seamen on the boat.  The teacher said that the story is a preview of the “Great Commission”.  And the walled city of Nineveh was precursor to modern day Mosul in Iraq.

What was interesting, though, was the whole topic of evangelism, and the whole idea of going out and recruiting people, by barging in on them.  The Mormons make young men do that as part of their missions – proselytize. Jehovah’s Witnesses can be mentioned. 

I can remember being “approached” even by a particularly persistent member of MCC back in Dallas in my first year there in 1979.
  
The underlying point is that we have become a less sociable people.  Salesmen are seen as seedy, as people who weren’t smart enough to create content.  My father was a salesman, but a specialized “manufacturer’s agent” who sold glassware wholesale to department stores along the mid-Atlantic. (Williamsburg was one of his favorite places.)   People don’t want to be disrupted.  In fact, life insurance companies typically ask perspective agents in screenings if they are willing to buy anything from door-to-door or telephone sales people.

Some in the class seemed to feel that evangelism is different – that recruitment to save people should be viewed differently than contacting to sell people things.  But religion, in psychological terms, is itself something that is “sold.”

If fact, I don’t take telemarketing calls, and rarely respond to people when approached in public places.  There is so much of it, and it has gotten so desperate, that I shut it out.  That would seem like a horrible job to have.  Yet, fifteen years ago, I used to do this, as with ballot access petition for the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, mostly in 1998.  Starting in 2002, I worked in a phone bank for the Minnesota Orchestra for 14 months.  It was a good experience.  In the late fall of 2003, after returning to DC, I tried to sell subscriptions by phone for the National Symphony.  At the time, it sounded like a logical use of some background in music.  But you really can’t sell your own personal relationship to music to people in the real world – except by performing and sometimes composing it.  You stay “in the moonlight.”   

Have social media made people less sociable in person?  It’s a very mixed picture, because social media is very useful in “recruiting” people itself,  and it is very effective in attracting help for seemingly deserving beneficiaries of very specific causes.  For all the social conservatism of the time in which I grew up, we really were quite immune to the needs of others very different from us. That has definitely changed, even if I personally have not. 
Update: May 6, 2014

The Supreme Court has ruled, on conservative-liberal lines, that incidental prayers at local government functions are OK.  ThinkProgrss claims this blows the separation of church and state (link). The Court apparently thinks this is not proselytizing.(of other people's religious agendas).  This is not "saving souls", as they would say in Dallas. The case is Town of Greece NY v. Galloway, and the slip opinion is here.   
  
I can remember back at MCC Dallas, around 1980, some of Rev. Joan Wakeford's sermons were listed as "evangelistic". "The Lord wants your body and mind" she would say.  I would sometimes cringe.  I wanted to be my own person. She had arrived from Apartheid South Africa.  

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The taping and publication of NBA Clippers owner's offensive conversation seems itself to be illegal and wrong


Marc J. Randazza, a First Amendment attorney based in Las Vegas (site of the Righthaven mess) has made some remarks about the Donald Sterling and NBA matter, more about how Sterling’s views came to light. The opinion piece on CNN is “What happened to Sterling was morally wrong”, link here

It appears that girlfriend Vanessa Stiviano set him up (Donald Trump’s assessment on CBS, here. . There are reports that, like Richard Nixon, he liked to record his conversations.  But there are also stories, like from Smerconish last night on CNN, that a third party “enabler” (an odd word, reminding me of a notorious law in Germany in 1933) provided the mechanism to record and distribute the conversation. There are legitimate questions as to whether the recording was illegal under California law if done without consent, or whether republication could have been illegal; perhaps not if taping had been his regular "Nixonian" practice. 
     
Randazza makes a comparison of the incident to the “revenge porn” problem, where no one can be sure that an intimate moment in a quasi-public place won’t get photographed surreptitiously and wind up going viral.  I’m not sure the analogy works, but it strikes me that almost any private conversation in which one expresses unacceptable views could wind up getting circulated. Randazza also points out that "private surveillance" may have much bigger implications that that from the NSA.  Even in public places, personal photography (and the possibility of later uploading) is raising real ethical questions, as has been pointed out here before, 
   
Back in the 1980s, when living in a garden apartment in Dallas, I met a medical resident and became casually friendly, one time going to a Texas Rangers baseball game in the old Arlington stadium.  He sometimes expressed rather strong attitudes about non-white people.  At a holiday dinner some years ago with my mother, someone expressed the idea that integration had jeopardized society and made life riskier for white people.  I was rather shocked to hear it, although I get a certain point.  But I don’t think a comment like that should have been taped and rebroadcast, at least with the person identified. 
  
Frankly, I grew up in a culture where some of this thinking was more “acceptable.”  Even my own father one time, back in the early 50s, quote a Bible voice about “fixing the boundaries thereof”.  And then, my mind shifts to the summer of 2005, where, at an assembly at a (Virginia) high school opening a summer session where I would work as a sub, the principal warned everyone that “times have changed”.
  
Sterling’s comments, however shocking in tone, reminded me of another problem.  People of his generation (and my parents’) believed in living double lives.  They thought you could “love someone privately” but shun or at least avoid them publicly, and that you behaved publicly in a different matter because “what other people think” does matter.  I guess it was Ayn Rand, in “The Fountainhead”, who argued that the opinions of others shouldn’t matter too much.  Sterling, ironically, found out that what people thought of his supposedly “private” comments really does matter.
  
Once you have some success and public visibility, people will judge your actions.  Late last Friday night I was standing in a bar, having finished my one beer and put the bottle down, watching the “action”.  I was interested in what I could observe.  Two women approached me, and asked if I wanted to dance.  I said “not now.”  They challenged me with something like “really, you’re kidding, why not”.  That was odd.  I do have my own attitudes about what or who I find “attractive”.  But once I’m out in public (the Internet), it seems that people will challenge what that is based on and make an issue of it.