Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Music makes time a true "dimension" for us, and might challenge Hawking's view of "no afterlife"


My piano teacher, back in the 1950s, used to say that a composer’s music lives forever, and essentially gives him a kind of immortality.  I suppose one could say that about any kind of content – literature, painting, sculpture.  But music is different from these in another sense. One’s experience of music spans time.  The brain relates the sounds at the moment to that which preceded, and an anticipation of what will follow.  Memory is involved, of course, as experiencing of music is about more than “living the moment”.  It’s very curious that music therapy is effective against dementia, and in taking the brain out of its own immediacy.
  

Actually, one could put the spin of cosmology or theoretical physics on it.  Time is a dimension, but in our universe, humans can move in only one direction, usually at a set rate (which decreases with gravity), to avoid paradoxes.  However, when listening to music, the mind constantly spans and replays entire blocks of time, even though one is not aware of doing that consciously. Try this not just with Mozart or Mahler, but also with Schoenberg’s “The Golden Calf”! (Actually, as one grows older, the brain experiences time moving more quickly. When you’re just 17, you really do have more “time” to solve ten calculus problems on an AP final exam.  Jack Andraka has more “time” now for his medical innovation than he would at my age.)
  
There’s something else about time that strikes me.  Even after passing – and every single one of us will pass away eventually, as far as we know, so that isn’t even controversial – the historical cross-product of a life’s experience still exists in a cosmological sense.  The whole narrative of one’s life still exists.  It’s possible to imagine that music extends it (and that makes sense, again, its use for therapy).  One cannot undo a wrongful action or impulsive choice.  One cannot go back and change the facts of one’s past.
  

In a dimensional sense, that is enough for “eternal life”, so one can understand why Stephen Hawking says there is no afterlife.  Or it isn’t necessary for the universe.  I would perhaps challenge him (and in 2015 I’ll read Brian Greene’s book and may have a lot more input).  It is a mystery, “why am I me” and not someone else.  Why was I born in 1943 and why have I lived the “different life” that I have, with an unusual way of perceiving emotion that only appears aloof to others (in the sense of relativity) but also affects others (again, the “observer” affects what he stares at)?  Why didn’t I live at the time of Christ or maybe the Exodus, or maybe in Germany in the 1930s?  Why wasn’t I born in poverty in Sierra Leone?  The question may be self-referential.  I am what I am.  Factoring in the idea that I am more fortunate than some others then becomes a moral exercise.
  
 As I’ve grown older, I have come to respect life as “special” in a way that I didn’t earlier.  Orcas, dogs, and cats, and the amiable red fox sleeping in the yard, all seem sacred.  Yet, when I was younger there was nothing enticing about the prospect of procreating life with my own seed.  I saw fecundity as mundane, something taken for granted, even vulgar.  No more, in a world with an aging population and falling birth rates in many countries.  But my attitude was so focused on the “virtue” of someone already grown, that I didn’t see myself as having a part in the process. Submission was more exciting.
  

I may be “who I am” simply as an existential tautology.  But still, it seems consciousness, capable of exercising free will (and executing choices that are irrevocable because of the time arrow) comes into focus gradually, well after birth, as the child is raised into adulthood (see Book reviews, Hofstader, June 1, 2013).  But once it is established, will it span all remaining eternity, or only its own life-experience block? Is consciousness, developed to the point of free will, a physical elemental that cannot be destroyed, even across time?  Maybe.  Is there some tie to biological children, that would possibly compromise the afterlife of the childless?  It sounds possible.  


The Monroe Institute, for example, sees consciousness as a hierarchy.  When you pass, your soul is in a higher reality.  For a while, the details of the life you led stay in focus, but, just as with a dream, or with a lost job, they tend to fade away with “time” (which functions very differently, now, as a real dimension). You are concerned with where you are, as absorbed in some sort of soul group.  Hopefully, you’re more aware of how the universe (or multi-verse) really works, and how a Creator really works when setting up a new universe at a singularity, inside a black hole.
  
I don’t think that “heaven” in the popular sense can work for me, because I am not socialized enough. It could not reward me. (I could never be part of an "eternal marriage" indeed.) But being part of a cosmic cycle does.  So what I do in remaining years really matters.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Young adults much more interested in hands-on volunteering than older people, but see "ethical problems" in a less intellectual way; less heed to "individualism"


The Washington Times (on p A3 Tuesday) ran an AP story by Connie Cass “Generation giveback: Those under 30 are no slouches when it comes to volunteering”,  link here.  There is a striking dichotomy:  young people see a duty to become personally involved in issues like homelessness or mental illness and serve “up close and personal” regularly, sometimes in a bureaucratized manner.
  
 Older people (of my generation) may object to bureaucracy and see the recipients as lacking “personal responsibility” where as younger people see this as more of a community thing, and something about where you start out in line in life (especially, sometimes, with respect to race).  The same people are not always as interested in keeping up with the news or in voting, which is striking, although that doesn’t comport with my own personal observation.

There is a sentiment, among the young, that seeing regular volunteering by those "able" sends a message that nobody "gets out of things" by being lucky and that being a good person "makes sense". And offering personal attention (when an older person might think "it's none of my business") is a way of ratifying the sanctity of all life. 
    
Cass also has an AP story on ABC “5 Things about Americans’ slipping sense of duty” here
  
As I’ve reported before, I’ve seen film that show amazing interest in some of today’s young adults to work with others, even overseas, in a very hands-on way (“The Mission in Belize” short film (see Drama blog, Nov. 4, 2012).

Picture: The Bronx, NY, from a cab Monday, personal trip, through a moderate income area 


Monday, December 29, 2014

Blog covering crime in DC will shut down because it costs too much to run, but there must be other ideas!


In a story Monday in the Washington  Post, Annys Shin reports  on the shutdown of a local site, Homicide Watch DC, 

Laura Amico and her husband had run the site for four years, despite moving to Massachusetts.  It cost about $60000a year to run, and used the help of long distance interns.  Laura had worked as a crime reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area, and had created a similar job on her own.

The site did very detailed reporting on every homicide case in Washington, which may explain why it was labor intensive and costly.  By way of comparison, my own blogging has very low cost for the volume of material that it covers.

The couple had approached several  local news organizations, all of which had declined.

A number of similar sites live in some ofher cities. Could there be some economy of scale and an operation to do many cities in one company? Maybe John Walsh would take up this project?

There are some unsolved cases in the area, like Kanika Powell and Sean Green (leate 2008 in Prince Georges County MD).  A thorough crime blog could out a lot of pressure to solve these cases. 

Can I do anything about this myself?  I have to finish my own work first to be of any good to others, I'll elaborate more soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Amazon Kindle's "all you can eat" buffet for readers not popular with some self-published authors; is "getting published" too easy?


Authors are finding that Amazon’s latest gimmick, “all you can eat books”, is undermining their potential to make a living from writing, according to a front page story in the New York Times on Dec. 29 by David Streitfeld, link here.  The gripe is with Kindle Unlimited, which offers readers unlimited access for $9.99 a month. Another problem, according to the story, is that Amazon Unlimited requires self-published authors to sell exclusively through them.  I wonder if that would preclude free display online, which I do with my books, with some controversy resulting. The article suggests that self-published authors, at least those who sell on this platform, form a union.  But the could work with the National Writers Union (link) with which I had some contact while living in Minneapolis (1997-2003), and which tried, not very successfully, to develop liability insurance for writers. 


The article notes whether “getting published” became too “easy” once the personal computer was invented.  You no longer had to type and edit a manuscript by hand.  I had created “only” two novel-length manuscripts before 1981, when I bought my first TRS-80.  I then took off, as I have explained in detail on my “media” blog on Wordpress.   Once I went public about this on the search engines, there was no turning back and deciding on some other second career.  Other writers might find the same thing, if they really need to go back to work and manipulate their social media presence to please their employers instead of themselves.  There are no double lives anymore, just as there are no victims.  
  


But deciding to “give up the day job” and make a living as a writer is obviously a questionable undertaking.  I got into book publishing not to “make a living at it”, but because of the double-edged moral dilemma (the way my college expulsion, Vietnam era draft, and later “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military) I felt my life demonstrated.  I had built up enough financial stability that I could do this without its “paying its own way”, but that very fact angers some people.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Morality as an individual's problem: the indirect dependence on others


Morality is a property of the individual.  Any situation finally drops down to a question as to how a particular person (I) “should” behave in a particular situation.

To the libertarian, morality is simple.  An act is morally OK if does not harm another person or violate that (adult) person’s will, or does not break a voluntarily entered contractual promise. Oh, were it that simple!

At this point, I have to give a context.  That is, at first, assume “you” live in a society that more or less follows the values of democratic capitalism (a term often thrown around by conservative writers after 9/11 as am owning abstraction).  We say that we respect all human life as sacred or inviolate, and must respect human rights.  The main problem that we run into is that as individuals we don’t all start at the same place in line, and don’t all have the opportunity to make choices.  Individualism seems to need some inequality in order to innovate, but unless individualism gives back, the surrounding world becomes unstable.

It’s useful to recognize at the outset, that you need a discussion of how to behave when you live in an authoritarian state, or are threatened by one.  But let’s come back to that later.

The main problem, in an individualistic culture, is that “I” can often bypass competing with others in manners that used to be expected in the past, and establish myself in my own mind and in front of others, but only when the culture is permissive enough to allow circumstances in which others, in less fortunate circumstances and with more unelected responsibilities, are likely to become harmed (or to harm themselves unwittingly).  The obvious modern context comes from the Internet and social media.  Related to this is that modern individualism allows me to avoid the risks and hardships that others take to make a living.  A good example is dependence on products made overseas at slave wages.  This often gets into typical Left wing arguments about “exploitation of workers” known since the beginning of communism (even going as far as Maoism). 

Note the importance of "permissiveness".  Someone who flouts a rule is punished or shunned not because he or she harmed others, but because of contraposition: if the behavior (or avoidance) is allowed to be acceptable, others will follow the example and then people, especially in future generations, may be harmed. 
  
So it would seem that a moral foundation would require recognition of when’s one’s activity depends on the unseen sacrifices of others, or can result at least indirectly in harm to others.  That “indirect nature” would have to filter out the circular reasoning of others (which accounts for a lot of homophobia and which dictators love to exploit).   A good example of behavior that might fit into this region is “being a football fan” as Malcolm Galdwell points out (because of the subtle concussion risk, which seems out of control).  The libertarian bedrock has always been “personal responsibility” (even as the “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” movie sees it), yet the realistic capacity to carry out responsibility isn’t always there.  Another question is, who are “the others?”  They would, for example, include other people’s children (“OPC”), a sensitive issue for the childless.  Would it include future generations, not only the unborn but the (as yet) unconceived?  In most ethical theory, a person who does not yet exist has no moral standing (hiding inside a clam in an aquarium doesn’t count).  But one could say there is a chain-link back to “OPC”.  If the welfare of future generations, decades after one has passed away, is a major moral concern, then behavior that wastes energy or pollutes (maybe my habit of renting cars alone with unlimited mileage) is morally problematic.  Another question is, are the “others” in one’s own family or community more “important” in moral standing than people in distant culture?  Democratic societies are having to learn that “taking care of your own first” (common on the political right as in the gun debate) doesn’t always cut it.
  

This brings me back to the issue of authoritarian societies, and their threat to individual liberties, not only in their own homelands but eventually to “The West”.  One of the most noteworthy features of authoritarian political and social systems – whether military, statist, fascist, communist, or based on religion, or some combination of these – is that people are presumed to “belong” to a nationality, ethnicity (sometimes based on race) or religious affiliation. The individual “loyalty” to his affinity group takes on primal moral importance, almost following that of social animals (like the orca in a recent post).  An extreme example is the idea in radical Islam that Muslims are one body, and that one has an obligation to go to distant lands to fight for other “brothers” who have been “attacked”.  This almost sounds like a perversion of logical reasoning, by carrying to the greatest possible extreme.  But our own treatment of the male-only military draft during the Vietnam era, with the “unfair” treatment of deferments, plays right into this problem. In fact, the debate over gays in the military, resulting in “don’t ask, don’ t tell”, became a proxy for the whole question of mandatory socialization when forced intimacy is possible, as often happens in real life in many contexts.  (Indeed, authoritarian societies often look at homosexuality as a treasonous attack on its future population, and ability to reproduce.) So how does one live honorably when one is different, and external powers force one to take on the group's goals as one's own? 

The moral paradoxes in the parables in the New Testament deal with these issues.  (My favorite is the Parable of the Talents.)  Jesus is dealing with the idea that there is no way for life to be both "free" and "fair" at the same time;  it's almost like quantum physics.  It's true that in "real life" (as Mother used to call it), people often have responsibilities they don't "choose" under "freedom of contract".  People often half to take care of others before or without having their own children.  It's true that a lot of aspects of my own life and thinking are problematic, even though it's not so clear how these "problems" add up; they are rather like a final examination where you "answer any four" of maybe six questions. One thing is apparent: if you get a benefit you didn't earn, you incur some responsibility to provide for others, at least down the line.  Disability or immutability has nothing to do with it. And if your content or skills benefits "humanity" (even on the level of solving "Enigma"), there needs to be the capacity of individuals in your neighborhood or orbit to matter, just because they are people, even if they need sacrifice. When people don't see this, they think no "rule of law" applies to them.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Another music license group makes an existential legal challenge to the way YouTube implements DMCA Safe Harbor


A group called Global Music Rights, under Irving Azoff, has threatened YouTube with a $1 billion lawsuit if it doesn’t pre-emptively remove about 20,000 videos for music it claims to control.  Artists include Pharrell Williams and John Lennon, and much of the music is relatively old.
  
YouTube claims that the plaintiffs are trying to circumvent the DMCA Safe Harbor process, and that Google has already a legally similar battle with Viacom in court.
  
But Azoff still claims that publishers must seek licenses in advance of posting, even though the Safe Harbor seems to be a post-publication mechanism.
  
Hollywood Reporter has a detailed story here  and the account includes Scribd PDF’s of the legal documents.
  
This can be an important case for protecting the ability of users (like me) to continue posting UFC.  Service providers don’t know in advance whether a document belongs to the poster.
  
The article also discusses the Content ID system (link ) which does give some automated capability for screen for more obvious copyright infringement.  It’s not clear why this didn’t prevent a confrontation here, except that sublicenses for some of the songs apparently expired during a group license period.  Plaintiffs are claiming thatYouTube's business model is predicated on an expectation of undetected infringement, an argument we've heard before. 
  
It is common for other media to prescreen for licenses.  Most commercial films go through a “script clearance” process and there are plenty of law firms along Santa Monica Blvd that secure music and video rights for embeds in commercial films in advance.   Again, there is a huge cultural gap between those who depend on huge volumes of actual media sales for a living (the old model) and those for who publish for recognition, like me; some of us are seen as disruptive for those who have to making a living for offering competing products almost for free!

Monday, December 22, 2014

NYC police tragedy recalls debate on automated trolling of social media


Again, the violence in Brooklyn, NY this past weekend is stimulating debate as to whether content service providers (like Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress, Blogger, YouTube, even conventional web hosts) should be expected to troll user-generated content for threats. 
  
It’s not so unlike debating the Section 230 issue, because we couldn’t have the world of UDC today (and the self-promotion that comes with it sometimes) without downstream liability immunity for providers, and there is a parallel issue with the DMCA Safe Harbor for copyright.
  
It also reminds one of the Elonis and Justin Carter cases that I discussed here Dec. 1 (Elonis is now before the Supreme Court).  When is an angry metaphor a real threat? 
  
Nevertheless, we know that service providers actually have done some automated screening.  


YouTube can screen for some kinds of copyright infringement, looking for watermarks.  Likewise, YouTube and Gmail can scan for digital marks for known images of child pornography, as identified by the NCMEC in Alexandria.  And almost all email providers scan for spam, although it is a fuzzy process, and actual whole blogs or sites (and submitted comments for moderation) are auto-scanned for spam or “link farming”, again a bit unreliable.  So it sounds plausible that some providers could scan for some keyword combinations. 
  
The “screening” issue has surfaced with “demands” that Sony remove all trailers and materials for “The Interview” from the Internet.  I just checked (6 PM Monday), a corporate trailer is still there .  
No, I won’t embed it because it might disappear.  But imagine (as I discussed Dec. 19) if service providers were “blackmailed” into removing all USG that discussed a particular country or dictator or extremist group, or even a particular user because he or she had somehow insulted a group.  The only real protection against going down this route is much more reliable security in the first place.  Giving in to pressure is an admission you don’t have good security. I do think that Silicon Valley companies are much better prepared in this area than Sony “was”. 


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ohio teacher "fired" over Facebook post critical of dairy industry, as part of "vegan" advocacy


A teacher, Keith Allison, was fired (contract renewal refused) as a second grade teacher in the Green Local School Board in Smithville, OH, for a personal Facebook page in which he expressed opposition to dairy farming, as connected to his support of vegan diets (supported by Bill Clinton, by the way).  He also defends animal rights.  However, the post had a picture of a farm which the owner, while not named, recognized, and the owner complained. Fox News in Cleveland reports on the matter here .

This does fit into the discussion of speech and “conflict of interest” that I have taken up here, as recently on Dec. 16.  This issue pertains particularly to employees with authority to make decisions about other stakeholders.  In the context I have discussed here before, there would be no conflict if the post had been restricted to a friends’ or followers’ list. I’m not sure from the news reports if it was really “public”.
  
  
The YouTube report above maintains that the school system depends on financial support from local farming, and that Allison was told that if he wants to be a teacher, he can’t advocate vegan lifestyles when working in an agricultural area.  Rather silly (and illogical), but legally troubling, if you consider other parallel cases (like mine).
  
The ACLU says that the post was protected speech from a public employee, and change.org has circulated an email petition.
  

Picture: Family farm from own family in Ohio, not related to case   

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Does the orca teach us something about socialization and individualism?


I found a Wordpress blog entry on “The Raptor Lab, Devouring Science, One Post at a Time”, that makes a very important point about the “biology” of individualism and, to its opposite, socialization and “the common good”. The post is “Inside the mind of a killer whale: A Q+A with the neuroscientist from ‘Blackfish’”, link here.  For reference, see the review of the film “Blackfish” on my Movies blog, July 29, 2013. It will air on CNN in early 2015.
  
The orca, or killer whale is a dolphin, although much larger than the familiar bottlenose. The orca (as well as some other dolphins) may be the most intelligent animal on earth besides man, probably outflanking the chimp.  But it comes from the line of herding animals (that include elephants, also very intelligent).  The biological complexity of the orca brain shows that convergent evolution works:  given the right circumstances, extreme intelligence and sophistication is likely to evolve in the universe repeatedly in different way.  Orcas are the “aliens” among us.  We should definitely respect their lives as if they were human. (And, remember, the 19th Century economy depended on whale oil!  No wonder we had a novel like "Moby Dick" which will generate an important film in 2015.) 
  
  
The interesting point in the article is that the orca brain seems to have a limbic area processing emotions that has no real counterpart in humans, or primate or even carnivores.  The experience of being an orca is indeed bizarre to a human (more than “Being Malkovitch”).  An orca experiences more than his or her own individual self; it seems to organically connect to its social group and share the fate of the group that is indeed alien to humans.  Of course, it’s also interest that the sonar or whales and dolphins have what amounts to a biological telecommunications network or “Internet”, something that these animals needed to grow biologically because they don’t have hands to make tools easily (and, no, like competitive swimmers, they don’t have chest hair).  Some can sleep with one-half of their brain at a time, which sounds weird.
   
There may be other biological analogues on socialization:  dogs (and wolves) are much more social than cats (except for lions).  But some insects are very social (bees and ants) to the point that conscious awareness may exsit in the colony but not the individual.  Social loyalty seems to be an important biological adaptation that helps the species as a whole have a future, and it raises “moral” questions for humans. For humans, rooting interest in an athletic team may be a weak analogue to cetacean socialization. So could family and fellowship, which always creates tension with individualism.  Orcas probably have biological genetic variations that make some individuals less "social" (and perceived as weaknesses in the cohesion of the group when facing common threats) just as humans do, so I wonder how pods handle this issue!  We could learn a lot from them. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Self-publishing, expressed integrity, the pressure to conform, and dealing with enemies


Sometime a couple years after I returned “home” (late 2003) to look after Mother, and during the time I had started substitute teaching, Mother said I should keep quiet about what happened to me a few decades before at William and Mary. 

I simply ignored her advice.  She didn’t really get what was going on, who I was being found online.  The William and Mary Expulsion (1961) and the sequence that followed became the basis for my books, and all the activism that followed, the whole second half of my life, and direction that I was following. 
  
After the incident with my screenplay when I was substitute teaching (toward the end of 2005), however, I gradually became more concerned with an “existential” problem:  my online “attention getting”, by someone who did not have the customary family responsibilities (skin in the game), could attract adversaries and pose a danger to others connected to me.  I, or my content, could be viewed as a “nuisance”.
  
There are many angles to this discussion. My mother was still OK then, but there had already been controversy over my diligence when she had coronary bypass surgery in 1999.  My attentiveness would become controversial again as she declined starting in 2007, as eventually I hired round the clock caregivers until she passed away at the end of 2010.  Many would say that she was my “family”, but I found the idea troubling because I had not procreated one of my own.
  
Yet I was being drawn into a “role” as “protector” or responsibility for others that I had not “chosen”, not having ever had sexual intercourse with a woman.  You get the point. I could have been perceived as a mooch, since I was no longer working, except more incidentally at lower wages (as a substitute teacher) and my mother did have the money to "live off of" and pay for her care later.  
  
Nevertheless, I knew that other material on my domains (even before I started using blogger) could conceivably attract the wrong attention.  For example, I had another screenplay short that demo-ed the issues I faced when my mother did have her surgery.  In a worst case scenario, an adversarial party could have, for example, made threats concerning my mother or her caregivers.  This never happened, but the idea crossed my mind, and even sometimes became a preoccupation. After all the “West Potomac High School Hoax” at the end of 2005 (regarding my "gratuitous" or "nuisance" screenplay "The Sub" that I had posted online publicly) had been bizarre enough.

I recall being told once, at around age 20, that I tended to make "enemies", of a certain kind of less intact person.  This came up on my first job, and in 1962 when I was a patient at NIH, when therapists said "I didn't get the possible consequences of things I say and do" (admitting latent homosexuality -- "pinning a label on myself" -- to a college dean). without addressing the circular thinking of "enemies".  Therapists questioned the wisdom of becoming an "oddball" and attracting ridicule if you couldn't compete normally, especially according to gender norms.  Again, circular thinking at the higher levels, going unchallenged (except by me).  Even my own father said, "To obey is better than to sacrifice", a proverb with a sting and a double meaning. 
     
I’ve had only one hack, back in 2002, on the old “hppub.com” domain, two files, one discussing nuclear terrorism.  It was easily repaired from a backup, and never recurred.  An obvious vulnerability at the ISP explained it.  But the point of the attack seems troubling.  Was it to make the actual threat, or to threaten an “ordinary” non-Islamic speaker for his lack of humility?  The hack had bizarre jibberish about Russia and Finland.

Of course, it isn’t hard to see what recent current event stimulates this “reflection”.  The Sony mess, and what we make of it.  There is a parallel.  My screenplay had been seen as gratuitous, unnecessary, and possibly provoking an unspecified student into tempting a teacher into illegal behavior, as well as suggesting that I might be “vulnerable” to an approach.  Why had I been willing online to leak this impression of me?   I could say, if it left that kind of impression, it had been effective and had said something important: older teachers are more vulnerable and more likely to be drawn into trouble than anyone wants to admit.  It needed to be said, even if nobody wanted to hear it. All of this constitutes what I call the "implicit content" issue, all the sudden critical in national security and international politics.  
   
Flash-forward.  The Sony film “The Interview” is said to be silly, a satire   We’ve seen these before (“The Dictator”, “Team America”).  But the adversary decided that the mere existence of this film constitutes a threat on that adversarial country’s "president's" life.  They consider it as part of a threat from the US, and see anyone participating in making or distributing or even seeing the film as a soldier, a potential enemy.  This doesn’t seem to make sense to us.  It would seem to give Sony filmmakers credit for a lot more “power” than they really have and give the movie a lot more credit for influence than it seems to deserve artistically.  It seems to take normal western thinking about artistic products and flip it around.  Likewise, the school back in 2005 gave my work much more credit for being potentially dangerous or disruptive than one could reasonably believe (today), in hindsight, that it “deserved”.

We could ponder Islamic extremist attacks or threats on media (Jylland Posten Muhammad cartoons, Salman Rushdie. and Theo van Gogh’s “Submission”) in a similar light.  But in this case there is no “threat” in the same light, and no “enticement”;  there is, indeed, the idea that if a religious figure can be “desecrated” in speech anywhere in the world, then the lives (and those of future generations) of a whole global faith becomes meaningless. 
  
I think the homophobia of the past works in a similar way.  If male homosexuality, even in private, were regarded as acceptable, the whole “meaning” of family life that motivates “straight” people could be undermined.  It seems like negative thinking, and seems self-deprecating today.  But it wasn’t seen that way in 1961 when I was expelled from William and Mary.  I wasn’t really a threat to approach people for unwanted sex.  My freedom was a “threat” to the “meaning” of their entire future heterosexual experience.  That’s what happened to Alan Turing.

Yet, I have sometimes been approached with a message like “conform, keep quiet, don’t make people uncomfortable with themselves or their own flaws, give up your fantasy world and come join us, get saved and converted”. Indeed, there is a certain irony: my own “fantasy world” is not that kind to people who “don’t make it”.

I see all of these threads as interrelated at a psychological, Dr. Phil level. 

You can see where this could be headed.  Enemies from radical causes (where states or rogue, whether communist, fascist, or religious like radical Islam or even extreme right-wing Christianity) could threaten companies over almost any content they find somehow offensive – even in the Sony case, the content was more “provocative” than usual.  They could even target individual artists or citizens, and try to threaten businesses willing to work with them, as a way to make a point about western or secular life. One concern that seems to give a particular context is the concern among many radicals about “unearned” or inherited wealth, as undermining the idea among the less fortunate that “law and order” even makes sense. By the way, the notion that very personalized “communist”( or “fascist”) terrorism could come to our shore has been known since World War II and an idea in a couple of my earlier novel manuscripts. In Europe, both Hilter and Stalin made things very personal.

There’s another angle to this.  An old essay on self-publishing in “Writers Digest” had recommended “Write what other people want”.  Well, I could be hired to ghost write someone else’s story (may one of the other “gays in the military cases”), but telling my own took all the time.  One could say, “you can publish, but don’t talk about THIS” (as a java keyword).  Then none of my work would have any integrity.
  
But I do get the retort, “but why do we get the news about this from YOU.  There are regular media outlets.  Why don’t you go out, use your life insurance background, sell, so you can return the favor by raising someone else’s disabled kid?”  I get the drift on this idea of payback.  Sometimes these ideas have been floated at me almost as hidden threats. But I can’t provide for anyone else unless my own life and work has integrity.  

I do add nuances to stories that I report, that major media outlets might miss, and I will often add a personal perspective based on incidents in my own life, often from the distant past (without identities of people). But I do get the idea that when it comes from "me", the "purpose" of the speech seems to matter to some people, and make them wonder if they are supposed to act in some way, rather than remain alert.  That is what "implicit content" means.
  
It doesn't make sense for someone to say, "I can still love you" if I have to go along with extortion (direct or subtle -- conformity) for the sake of "Staying Alive" (John Travolta style, another movie), that is, to "protect" myself or others around me.  You either have honor or you don't (Joe Steffan's book).  You are either worthy or you aren't.  As the song by Otto Blucker starts, "Hiding isn't what we do." 

In fact, there are some details I don’t publish.  I don’t give names and information about non-public people.  There are a few arcane incidents, like some workplace litigation in the middle 1990s, where I can’t go into a lot of detail even now, but I don’t avoid subject matter just because it upsets someone who could become a threat.

There are lines I don’t cross.  Imagine some nightmare scenarios (we don’t need to get carried away, because imagination is endless), like destroy all copies of my "Do Ask, Do Tell" books because someone’s ideology is trampled or someone somehow imagines a threat.  I would not.  I woudn’t be around if I had to. But of course, extortion like that would show that my work really did say something and really did matter to the rest of the wold.  Again, think about the paradox. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If I had become a licensed teacher, could I have gotten around my own "conflict of interest"? I just wanted to see "critical thinking"


I’ll follow up again the issue of the failure of my substitute teaching experience. 

Had I stayed on course, and eventually gotten licensure and become a regular math teacher in high school, could I have dealt with my “conflict of interest” problem?

Again, one of the main concerns was that if students (whom I would have the “power” to grade) had found my “opinions” about other people  embedded in my materials (like the older movie reviews, where I sometimes made juicy remarks about the appearance of actors), that could have shown “prejudice” against students in certain groups. 

In the days before modern social media (and Facebook wasn’t really public until about 2007, and MySpace had come along around 2004), the main Internet experience was indeed finding specific web pages (including mine, which included copies of chapters of my book) from search engines.  You could, for example, search an actor’s name in combination with the word “gay”, or even "hairy chest". I often found such searches on my site's Urchin logs. 
  

I can certainly understand, particularly with how matters were at the time, a belief that it is inappropriate for a teacher to engage in “gratuitous” online behavior, however legal and innocent and not actually pornographic in the usual sense, that could “divide” people or make some people believe they might be less “worthy” in the speaker’s eyes.  I had thought at the time that people with the power to make decisions about others (whether subordinates, students, or even customers to be underwritten for insurance or loans) should not speak in searchable public modes without supervision or gatekeepers.  That’s where I drew the line.  I did not have the authority to grade students, so I thought I was OK.  This became the “blogging policy” on my “doaskdotell.com” site.  There had been a lot of talk about employer blogging policies in the 2002-2003 period, especially after Heather Armstrong stirred up the world with her “dooce” site after getting fired for blogging about work.
  
Social media came along, with the idea that content could be restricted to whitelists, and such content usually didn’t get indexed by search engines, so in my worldview, it wasn’t “published” in the same sense  Of course, whitelisted content often “leaks” and gets repeated by others – and that became the “Dr. Phil Problem” in the 2006-2008 period. 

Social media also made it impossible to lead “double lives”, partly because of Facebook’s “real name” policy, so in time, people became expected to use their entire social media and Internet presence for their employer’s purpose.  I could not have done today what I did fifteen years ago while still working.

And what’s even more interesting is that, in 1997, I did a corporate transfer (within ReliaStar, later to become ING and now Voya) to the Minneapolis location in order to get away from a conflict regarding the company’s selling to military officers, and my publication of a book and Internet materials on the military gay ban (“don’t ask don’t tell”).  (I have more history on Wordpress here  ).
  
Getting back to teaching, what had been in the back of my mind was to set up an engine to record and collate “opposing viewpoints”, as I had explained here Feb. 29, 2012.  The idea was to get others to make the points I had started them making, and then let the public see the results.  This would be very good for teachings students “critical thinking”.  And the opinions are no longer necessarily mine, so there is no “conflict” or presumption of prejudice.  This sort if approach might be particularly effective with issues like the military gay ban (with its unusual personal sensitiveness, and potential to affect civilian areas, even like dorm life, as had been the case in my life and as would be again, as at Rutgers in 2010, tragically), or with issues like Internet free speech and “barrier to entry”.
  
I could have worked with Wikipedia.  Of course, that’s usually doesn’t result in public attention for one’s views, and at least there is supervision and gatekeeping (more now at Wikipedia than used to be). If Wikipedia had actually set up an "opposing viewpoints" database, there would no longer exist a legitimate reason for me to set myself up as a sentinel.  I could have been expected to resume "real life", however socially disadvantaged I felt. It all depends on what postulates you make about individual sovereignty, versus the need to belong to a group that faces external challenges. 
        
And I could have continued working offline on my novel, screenplays and music. In 2004, remember, I had entered Project Greenlight II with a sci-fi screenplay.  That presented no conflict.  

Even so, in the 2004-2005 period, before I got into today’s blogging platforms and social media, there was reason to think I might be able to thread my writing career with teaching after all.

Update: Dec. 31





Here's a pitch for Wikipedia "Keep It Free", from Jack Andraka, link.  I do make a regular monthly donation with a bank.  Wikipedia has become more concerned recently that running the site at a sufficiently professional level, as a non-profit, does take money.  


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Had I "stepped up" as a sub teaching a middle school band class, I might be doing better now


As I went through some of my Sibelius 7 scores, I found one for chamber orchestra called “test” and it looked like a few measures for a jazz quartet.  I don’t remember keying this in, and it might be a sample from Sibelius.  The parts look handwritten, as is common in symphony scores.

The object reminded me of my “failure” when doing a substitute teaching assignment for a middle school band class in January 2005.  I described this on the Drama Blog on Oct. 17, 2008, and to some extent on this blog on July 25, 2007.

So why should it have been so hard to stand up in front of the band class, on a conductor’s podium, read an orchestral score (of the “Prehistoric Suite”) and actually conduct the kids, since the regular teacher had failed to specify a student conductor for these less mature classes.  I needed to do this nine days in a row.

Maybe the students would balk when I got it wrong, but I think my merely standing there would have helped control the situation. 

It would have vindicated that my nine years of piano had meant something, even if band is quite different. 

Just look at the score and follow it.  And point.  It can’t be that hard.

Had I “stepped up” to the challenge, maybe teaching would have been a go.  History would have gone differently.  I probably would have toned down my Internet postings, and never pubbed “The Sub”.  The whole “implicit content” incident (related July 27) – the equivalent of mixing the SCOTUS Elonis case (Dec. 1) with “The Interview” (and raising similar questions about global Internet broadcast to impressionable, susceptible and easily tempted audience) would have been sidestepped.

And my own effort to produce my own music now might be further along. I must say, I wonder about the bizarre emails that sometimes show up asking about a piano teacher (even one cell phone call).  If it's a scam, I don't see how it works. 

As for the "opportunity" to conduct a student orchestra with zero training, think about it.  It seems ugly, but it’s a lot better than hucksterizing concert tickets (which some music majors have to do).  It’s better than driving a cab (or now Uber).  It’s better than the physical job of letter carrying.

Only Chairman Mao (and Kim Jong-un, who looks so foppish in his mug shots) would not have approved. Remember, the Left is usually far more moralistic than the Right. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

DOJ lightens up on letting NY Times reporter and CBS producer protect sources after CIA leak


There is some reassurance for professional (at least) journalists in the decision by Eric Holder not to subpoena New York Times reporter James Risen, at least to give confidential sources, in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official. The story by Sari Horwitz is here.  Risen authored the book “State of War”.  NBC has a similar story by justice reporter Pete Williams here

The story may seem more politically compelling because of the recent report on CIA abuses, but it isn’t directly related.

Apparently the DOJ also reversed itself and decided not to subpoena a CBS producer, Richard Bonin.
  
It is very unlikely that protections would apply to amateur bloggers, when they somehow come into contact with classified information, which probably happens more often than is generally realized.  I contacted authorities several times on unsolicited (non-spam) items emailed to me in the years after 9-11.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do "real men" take foolish risks to "protect" others?


Here’s a little story that says a lot about me, from Vox: “Men are much more likely than women to take truly idiotic risks that cost their lives, by Joshua Stromberg, on Vox, here. Case in point, look art the behavior last summer of Washington Nationals's outfielder Jayson Werth, here. 
      
I was very different from this daredevil model as a boy.  I wondered why boys bash themselves playing football.  I did develop a liking for softball and following baseball because of the physics of the game.   I had trouble learning to ride a bicycle, and today wonder when I see kids riding the wrong way or run lights, making drivers unable to see them when turning until too late. 

My father always noted that I had an unusual objection to “getting hurt”.   That seems selfish.  Boys, in becoming men, were supposed to join together and fight to protect women and children. You see that now, overseas. I resented it.  Women seemed privileged.

What caused all this.  Was I “autistic”?  Maybe.  I was good at my own things, piano and books, and my brain pruned away all distractions early.  I would admire men who were smart but better at everything. That’s the “Clark Kent” effect (or maybe Ashton Kutcher).  All of this would get to be viewed as a moral and character problem, because, in a world that supported a military draft, I was leaving the risk taking for others and cheating the system.
  

Later, when I became self-published, others who used not to be within my sight horizon and not my “business”, would knock on the door and try to get me to adopt their goals.  All a very interesting progression. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Abbey House case deals with "contributory infringement" by encouraging removal of DRM, in complicated case embedded in "price fixing"


There is a very complicated case where an e-book seller Abbey House (once known as Books on Board) got into a dispute with Apple and several book publishers, including Simon and Shuster, claiming that “price fixing” effectively drove it out of business.  Antitrust ideas aside (you study that in US History), another controversy occurred with Abbey House provided consumers with directions as to how to remove DRM so that consumers could read the books even if the company went out of business.
  
The details are in a report in “Courthouse News” by William Dotinga, here

 The federal judge Denise Cote (New York) ruled that Abbey had not “induced infringement” or participated in “contributory infringement”.  Users were simply enable to use something they had paid for on another device.  The actual opinion is here. There has been plenty of litigation over the idea that a business whose model is to promote infringement (most often in a P2P context) might well be guilty of a contributory infringement tort – unless there are credible non-infringing uses for the business.  Then an interesting moral question is whether the non-infringing uses could support the business alone.  You could extend this kind of thinking into the “free content” debate. 
  

This whole problem is at least tangentially related to the controversy involving Amazon, Hachette, and many of its book authors. Keith Gessen reports (“The War of the Words”) this on page 162 of the December 2014 Vanity Fair, here
  
In the meantime, I wonder how many writers really make a living from just that (see Book reviews blog, Aug. 8, 2014).
Bill


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

EFF still critical of possible WIPO treaty that would let broadcasters get around normal copyright law limitations


Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an article by Jeremy Malcolm, warns that broadcasting companies are still trying to get the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to draft a treaty that would give broadcasters post-air rights that transcend normal copyright law and fair use, link here.  Among the demands are the right to stop the use of open source products in watching rebroadcasts or time-shifted.
   
The latest draft of the proposed treaty is here
   
Youtube, however, does contain some videos concerning helping the disabled use content.
  
    

In my own practice, I’ve noticed that video clips from programs that are authorized on YouTube for embed often go “private” shortly thereafter.   I don’t know why. 


Update: Dec 10

The Guardian Australia reports that Australia plans aggressive blocking of overseas sites that facilitate infringement, here

Monday, December 08, 2014

My concern is the loss of "critical thinking" before people "act up" in the streets -- oh, really?


A long series of detailed newspaper accounts, such as one today in the Washington Post by Marc Fisher and others, “In three minutes, two lives collide and a nation divides over Ferguson shooting” (link) illustrate some conflicting points.  People tend to see what they want to see or believe they will see, as witnesses.  But this and many other articles explain how the physical and forensic evidence support the idea that Michael Brown, while unarmed, really did confront officer Darren Wilson directly (even "unbelievably"), after behaving aggressively in a retail store.  One can believe, as his family reports, that this is out of character, and wonder why it happened, but it seems clear that it did happen.  (White men, like James Holmes, have suddenly behaved out of character, too.)  One can certainly question whether Wilson’s action, firing many rounds, was necessary for self-defense.  One can question many things.  In Brown's case, unusual reaction to THC sounds possible. 
    

It’s also true that some other cases, especially Eric Garner in New York, as well as other incidents in Ohio, Arizona, and perhaps Utah may well turn out to be more convincing examples of criminal behavior by polices officers, possibly racially based, than Wilson’s.
  

I certainly support the peaceful demonstrations against police profiling and abuses.  But some of the behavior goes way beyond anything morally connected to the facts. 
  
In our country, it is unacceptable and unconscionable that someone (Darren Wilson) should live in hiding when the facts simply don’t support his guilt or cupability (at least of an intentional crime). Agreed, in other incidents, individual police officers may be more deserving of accountability, but what has happened in the Missouri case is simply unbelievable in a civilized nation.
  

One of my own reasons for writing and blogging independently is to support critical thinking, not blind emotion and revenge. 
  
I’ve been around people calling for forceful expropriation and “revolution”, especially in my young adulthood.  I’ve heard people say scary things in person.  I’ve seen people view their own peers, only slightly better off than them, as “enemies”, instead of the real “carpbetbaggers”.   On a certain psychological level, all “revolutionary” behavior is similar, whether founded in religion or economics or some combination of both. 
  
And I’m certainly aware of the past, and of the fact that race often (not always) puts some people “ahead in line” of others.  In fact, I’ve seen some segments of the film “American Lynching” by the late Gode Davis (from Rhode Island), and I am looking into what it would take to get this film, and some other similarly spirited projects, commercially produced and completed.  The idea of forcing people formerly privileged to "trade places" with others is frankly Maoist (but that's what the communist "cultural revolution" in China in the 1960s was all about).  
  


Yet, when you take the fall for one else’s need for vengeance, you are paying for the sins of others, perhaps sometimes as a result of insularity or indifference. There is no point in talking about victimhood.  Yes, I can see how this leads to a need for Grace.