Saturday, January 31, 2015

Online reputation now deals with the "2-way ratings", affecting consumers of driver and rental services; there is a sinister undertone


Here’s a new twist in the online reputation problem: two-way ratings.  David Streitfeld has a front page story on the issue in the Saturday New York Times, link here  title, “Ratings cut both ways, so don’t sass your Uber driver”.  In fact, competitor Lyft says on its website that it has a two-way rating policy, and that it doesn’t keep drivers who fall below 4.5/5.  It would seem to require a lot of pimping to get people to give you an “A” every time, worse than graduate school.

Airbnb’s site beckons “Belong anywhere” and says it will “create a world of belonging” (as with Martin Fowler’s book, reviewed Aug. 27, 2014 on my Books blog).  It would make sense that people who are going to rent rooms in their own homes would care about the previous reputation of a guest.
   
Still, the concept of 2-way rating could be disturbing, as potentially some consumers could find themselves banned (like an unofficial “no fly list”) from using certain services for no reason – although it remains to be seen if banning them makes much economic sense.  If you drive for Uber, you need the income, right?
  
I have not tried Uber or Lyft yet, staying with cabs.   I could find more reason to use them if the Washington DC Metro stops late night service in the wake of its recent terrible accident.  When I travel, I stay in established hotels, although I use Priceline to find them.  I need to be sure that the connectivity will be good.  And by the way, most places now require you to cancel at least a full day in advance – and you don’t know that something won’t happen to your flight.  It used to be that you could cancel before 4 or 6 PM in most places. 
  
By the way, even though I am in a house as a retiree, I am in no position to get into the room rental business, simply because my time is taken up by what I already do.  Downsizing, with more urban convenience, could eventually be in the cards.  (That’s what’s great about living in New York, isn’t it, if you can afford it.) 

I constantly get pimped emails and physical mailings of deals from Angie's List.  Of course "Angie" has to make a living at this.  I actually rarely use review sites, because of the indirect 2-way risk.  (I have only one outstanding "dispute" right now anyway.)  I do rate films on Netflix, to keep track of the ones I have seen.  But I never write reviews there (or on Rotten Tomatoes, for example); I write a few on Amazon, but mainly I use my own blogs and sites (and point to them on Facebook and Twitter), so using review sites would be redundant. 

A few bars or discos around the country actually have policies of banning people(at least for stated periods) for certain misconduct, like jumping ahead in line.   It would seem that they expect their doormen or bouncers to have long memories. 

Online reputation could become a bigger issue for consumers in the future, like when renting apartments, for example, if property owners feel that a particular customer could bring danger to others in the environment.  The book “The Tyranny of Silence” by Flemming Rose (of the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy, with a recent horrific aftermath in France) gets into this, and I will review it soon on my Books blog. 

Update: May 29, 2015

It's natural to wonder how the use of "review sites" (especially Yelp! and Angie's List) could interplay with umbrella insurance offered to consumers at the high end of auto and property overage. It would sound hard to underwrite.  This is likely to develop as a story in the future. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

YouTube gets more pressure in Europe to prescreen videos, which is like prescreening phone calls (except in one respect)


Alyssa Newcomb has a disturbing AP report on ABCNews today about YouTube, “The tremendous job of policy content”, link here. About 300 videos are uploaded a minute worldwide.  The company depends mostly on users flagging content as inappropriate.  But the company can respond to marked content 24x7.
  
Screening every video would be like screening every phone call, with the difference that phonecalls are not broadcast, but most videos are public, listed and searchable.
  
Yet European governments especially seem to be putting more pressure on YouTube to do more to prescreen videos for violence or extremism as well as for copyright (some of that processing can be automated).   

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Even for Andrew Sullivan, blogging isn't dead; but it's hard to make extended trips to the real world


So Andrew Sullivan has stirred things up with “A Note to My Readers” that he will stop blogging, or at least suspend it for a while, and go back to the real world (that reminds me of John Galt at the end of “Atlas Shrugged”, at the end of the book).  His link is here.  I don’t quite understand how his pay meter or tip jar worked, because I don’t run one.
  
And Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post says, “No blogging isn’t dead”, (here)  any more than “God is dead” (as with that Time issue in the 1960s, with the movie “Rosemary’s Baby” (gratuitously remade for TV recently), or even the more recent series “Resurrection”, which says the same thing). 
  
Blogging is indeed a “publishing platform”, and before blogs we had “flat sites” like by “hppub” which got replaced by the more aptly domain-named “Do Ask Do Tell” after my books. 
But once you start you have to stay at it.  You have to take your digital life with you when you go on vacation.  That makes long trips to remote areas, especially overseas, impossible, especially volunteering overseas. And that, as I noted on the previous post, is becoming more critical as terror threats interfere with travel and possibly the use of electronics on trips.   It also makes a lot of conventional employment impossible because of “conflict of interest”.  But I started this late in life, when I had quasi-retired.  I could “afford” to make it a second career and not peddle life insurance (like an obligatory huckster) instead.

The newer forms of social media, mainly as implemented by Facebook, have tended to place more emphasis on having people actually know you or have a specific connection to you, before getting news from you.  That isn’t necessarily good for me at all, yet Twitter and Facebook have turned into relatively effective platforms for “broadcast” in practice.  Given how that is being abused in the world (recruiting propaganda and copycats -- one example), I wonder if that can last (see Saturday’s post).  



Update: January 30

Ezra Klein weighs on on Vox Media about Andrew Sullivan's "taking a break", with a piece "What Andrew Sullivan's exist says about the future of blogging", here.  It's true, as I noted above, there is a lot of tension between modern social media, with the need to generate ("viral") contacts with specific people, and "older" forms of blogging (like around 2006) with the focus on a "conversation" about an area of content (requiring contextual knowledge), and even older "flat sites" associated with self-published books -- my model going back to 1997.  (Remember "Hometown AOL"?)  As I found then, when I worked as a substitute teacher, putting out controversial material this way, to readers who find it and don't bother to look up and understand the broader context, can lead to dangerous misinterpretation, what lawyers now call "the implicit content problem".  
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Looking forward to a home-stand, and some walk-off wins


When I was growing up, I remember being fascinated by the idea of whether you could see the horizon on the other side of a wide river or bay, or whether you could “see through” a tunnel (particularly on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on multiple family trips to Ohio in the 1950s), or even on bicycle trails (like Paw-Paw along the C-O in Maryland, or in Sparta, WI).  I talked about this in particular about the ferry acros the Chesapeake Bay in a Wordpress posting here


Seeing “the horizon” is an important idea in work.  On November 2, 2014, I outlined a large number of interrelated projects that I want to finish now.  I can see the “shore”.  (Perhaps it’s feeling “the air of another planet” from the vocal part of Arnold Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet). That list is still pretty much the same.


To focus on this work in the next three months or so, I need a “home stand”. Yes, I need that last at-bat in the bottom of the ninth inning, the walk-off win opportunity.   I need to avoid too many distractions, “watching my back”, etc.  Customer service, when I pay for it, needs to come through properly.  Infrastructure needs to hold up (like Internet access).  So I don’t need the interruption of picking and packing up to go out of town a lot during this period. I don't need the distraction of contemplating disruptions caused by negligence or the indignation of others.  And this seems a bit uppity or insular: I don't need unsolicited sales calls, or "complaints" that I don't work in a "numbers ruled" environment the way others "have to".  I do "get it".  But I have to lay these existential challenges aside and finish what I started. 
  
Let me re-iterate: it is extremely important to me to prove to myself that I can produce a worthy novel manuscript that doesn’t become obsolete (like an earlier one in 1988 did because of the end of the Cold War), that I can produce a screenplay that really does justice to my books; that I can produce a non-fiction autobiographical video (edited properly in Final Cut or equivalent),


Since the passage of my mother at the end of 2010, I’ve gone back on the road more often:  Charlotte, Minneapolis, Mt. Washington NH, Dallas and other areas of Texas, southern CA and Las Vegas;  the Great Lakes (even Detroit);  the Whiteface-Adironacks area;  The NC-TN Smokies and Oak Ridge:  then the civil rights landmarks in Alabama, as well as areas from Nashville to northern MS.  Some of these trips get pushed back and postponed because of one complication or another, but get done.


In early December, I had intended to visit Disney World (Epcot and the Mars vovage), and Diagon  Alley at Universal.  I had even made some hotel reservations, intending to drive the 1700 miles in 8 days.  (Another friend did just that between Christmas and New Year’s).  Because of a particular last-minute complication, I did not go.  There was no financial cancellation penalty, but I don’t like to do this.  I intend to set this up for around the first of May.  I also would like to get to London and to Finland the first half of this year, after this “home stand” in which I should finish the work. The postponement of the car trip south will also let me pay a significant visit to Fort Jackson, SC this spring, including a visit to the Basic Combat Training museum, significant earlier in my life (in 1968).
  


So what does this mean for getting into taking care of others?  Well, I have to stay on my own track for a while, with as few interruptions as possible.  I do understand that there are some things that should be expected of me for the attention I “demand” (to quote a third grade teacher’s report card, post measles). I’m in a house bigger than what I “need”, so it ought to provide for more people.  That takes work and preparation.  (What if the asylum issue really does materialize?)  And, as I’ve noted about volunteerism, I’m not much into other people’s bureaucracies, which are getting more demanding even in volunteer areas (posting Jan. 18).  There is some point to getting people to fit into them, as this gives the less “lucky” a reason to believe they can get a fair shake from civilization. 
  
Second picture: "Back to the Bay".  That means something "in the Army".  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Could "user generated content" without gatekeepers be on the firing line?


I have to confess a mental knee-jerk whenever I hear comments that young adults in the West are being recruited to radical causes (right now, it’s radical Islam, but in the future it could be something else) easily by social media. 
   
Remember the underlying process for social media today:  there is no gatekeeper, and no pre-screening, and generally no downstream liability for facilitators.  The accompanying byline is “user generated content”, or UGC.  There are two ways people become “famous” and generate influence, without supervision.  One is primarily the Web 1.0 model, being found by search engines, which took a lot less effort than people thought.  (YouTube primarily belongs to this model.) The other is embedded largely in Web 2.0 and 3.0, social media (the two biggies being Facebook and Twitter), predicated on building substantial lists of “friends” or “followers”, who find your content directed to them.  Social media typically lies in the “deep web” and is largely not indexed.  Except that stand-alone blogs are rather a hybrid, as they get indexed, but often offer a mechanism for followers, though they tend to not attract nearly as many.  Flat websites also had ways of inviting people to join mailing lists, but these have largely been supplanted by modern social media.
  
I got into this as a successor to self-publishing books, starting in the late 1990s.  I found I could cover a tremendous range of interrelated content (all in orbit around my own connection to the military gay ban in the early 1990s as Clinton took office), and influence political debate by the idea that I was “always there” and being found.  My actual numbers did not matter particularly. I did not need to depend economically on unit sales, so my interest was always in the content itself, not on sales distribution strategies. And the content was predicated on a certain model of journalistic objectivity, to be able to mention all points of view, and all facts, even if bringing some points up could possibly place me in danger or even others connected to me. 
  
Needless to say, over time, I got a lot of ear over this.  In the middle 2000’s, II would be approached about joining ventures that would end my former “double life” and, as I would soon figure out, force me to use my online presence to develop “leads” (out of social media “friends” or “followers”) to sell somebody else’s wares, not my own.  I would also have to fend off calls about why I wouldn’t join mass campaigns in order to generate mass hardcopy sales of my books, at high prices.  That might help somebody else make a living, but it really didn’t matter to disseminating the content or being “famous”.
  
You can see where this heads or leads.  I haven’t had a lot of responsibility to provide for others in my life.  Once one has dependents, one has to earn income and one has to take sides, become partisan, and in some sense compete with others for the sake of dependents.  The personalized “journalistic objectivity” model for living becomes an insular indulgence, a non-sustainable pipe dream.  One interesting aspect of my self-publishing experience is that once I was quasi-famous, others would try to get me involved in their own lives in ways that previously hadn’t been “my business”. 
  
A couple of things.  One reason I didn’t have dependents is that my sexuality didn’t lead to procreation – to having my own children.   Earlier in life I rather viewed all this as a personalized choice, but in public terms almost an “afterthought”.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had more reason to wonder about the importance of lineage. But it was the eldercare experience with my mother that impressed on me that “responsibility” doesn’t always wait for procreation.  Nevertheless, my “social aloofness” presented a certain kind of chicken-egg paradox.  I didn’t have the ability to “protect” women and children like a “normal man” (that is, I wasn’t “competitive” enough to play in the normal big leagues) so I went in my own direction.  Society became technological and more permissive, and offered opportunities at an individual level impossible for previous generations.  But I can see I really could have been even more “successful” had I been born a few decades later.  (What would Mark Zuckerberg have amounted to had he been born in 1943?  That’s another existential paradox.)  In any sense, I’ve encountered “demands” for others from a certain compassion, almost feminine and submissive stance with respect to others immediately in my world, particularly with respect to eldercare (until 2010) but in other ways before.
  
The other thing is that I came out of the estate situation better off than might have been expected.  I did “inherit” some capital, which is bone to the radical Left that finds the “rentier” immoral in exploiting the labor of others.  But I has also saved a lot when working.  I benefitted from conservative spending habits when I was working (I didn’t have education debt, and I didn’t have dependents, so I didn’t need to worry about the loan sharks of the world), and my father, in particular, had been very conservative with the family’s assets, getting the house paid off, and investing in utilities and energy, when they earned a lot.  Yes, oil and gas (including literally one well in Ohio owned by a relative) gave me a ride.
  

So, I realize people can rightfully expect some things from me.  I’ll come back to these in another post soon (Oh no!)  I do think that the way people in my situation behave, publicly, does have an impact on the faith that less fortunate “others” have in the system – whether they really have a “chance” and whether the world will really work for them.  It’s both economic and, curiously, personal, even in a “mind your own business” world.  Since life cannot be “fair”, I understand how people turn to religion and faith to get answers to questions that, at an individual level, provide an unacceptable ethical impasse.  It’s too bad when religion gets wrapped up in tribalism rather than rational individual ethics.
  
So here I am, making a career of UGC, which, because of the “conflict of interest” and “implicit content’ ideas I’ve developed here before, has precluded almost any other career involving becoming anyone’s tool (even “Christ’s”).  Becoming a math teacher was perhaps an “almost”. 
  
Yet, it’s troubling.  The permissive attitude toward UGC does allow harm to come to others.  We all know how:  pornography, cyberbullying, increasing risks of cybersecurity, and now an apparently easy recruiting tool for “enemies”.  After 9/11, there was concern that ordinary amateur sites might be hacked to provide steganographic instructions to terrorists (and I had a hack in April 2002). 
    
It must be said that many responsible sources question if the “recruiting” is “that easy.”  British Prime Minister David Cameron says a lot more must be going on to explain why some relatively well-off youths become radicalized.  It doesn’t happen, he thinks, because one social media post or one website.  Inequality goes much deeper than just income and wealth (or even unearned capital) and physical possessions;  it digs deep into personal values.
  
Nevertheless, it seems that our UGC environment seems amazingly permissive. 
  
The obvious place that this discussion starts is censorship.  The Supreme Court has said that content-based government censorship is unconstitutional.  We know that from the COPA trial in 2007 (my “fil” blog).  Censorship is allowed only for narrowly defined categories of illegality, like obscenity or child pornography.  Classified (military and police) information will fall into this area (yes, Wikileaks makes some legal questions obscure).  Indeed, Martin London, on p. A19 of the New York Times today, January 24, 2015, argues “Why tolerate terrorist publications?”, link here. He gives a cogent discussion of Inspire (which does not come up in major search engines).
  
But there are other familiar traps.  Most of them involve downstream liability.  In 2013, state attorneys general wanted Congress to limit the effect of Section 230.  We all know how SOPA (2011), intended to fight piracy (itself a legitimate aim) could have undermined downstream liability copyright immunity (Safe Harbor) from ordinary posters.
  
Other traps could include the idea that individual users share more responsibility for the possibility that others can misuse the services that their (and my) self-expression is predicated on.  One can imagine mandatory liability insurance (which no insurance company right now can underwrite, although it gets into the tricky subject of umbrella insurance).  Or one could expand the digital executor idea and require that every individual social media or personal web account (even for an adult) have a co-signer, at least to know what to do if something happens to the original speaker. (A less drastic variation could be to require all web account holders to be able to log on and respond to messages at least once per established time interval, to handle problems or complaints -- an issue for people who travel a lot, especially to some areas overseas,)  Or one could limit UGC to whitelisted environments: you could only distribute content first to people who know you and acknowledge you.

Would this be constitutional?  Although content-based restriction on speech is unconstitutional (generally), restrictions on self-distribution (as without insurance) might not be,  Or does COPA cver that, too? 

The latter would be particularly catastrophic for me.  I put it out and let people find it, and they do.  I don’t recruit people to sell them things or get them to “follow me” (pun).  I’m not personally competitive enough, at 71, to do that – and I never have been “masculine” enough (in a Rosenfels sense) indeed to do that. (Or, like J. Alfred Prufrock, not potent enough, if you believe T.S. Elliot).  And “nobody else’s cause” is good enough. No, I don’t “belong” in that sense.  (See Book reviews, Fowler, Aug. 27, 2014).  No one owns me, I’m “nobody’s tool” (as with the teen character Bob in “The Zero Theorem”, Movies, Sept. 23, 2014). 
  
And even one more hooker is the resistance of most people to advertising, which is what supports all the ‘free content” on the Web. "Do not track" figures into this. I don’t need the advertising income myself, but companies that provide the service platforms do need it, although there are new concerns about keeping drive-by malware out of ads. And there is a question about how this works out with fully paid shared hosting. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Barrett Brown gets stiff sentence for "threats" despite formal dropping of charges associated with his hyperlink.


In a case widely reported before, Barrett Brown was sentenced to almost five years in prison for a variety of charges (transmitting threats and obstruction of justice) related to his sharing of a link to “classified information” (including stolen credit card information), despite the fact that the DOJ had formally dropped the charges regarding the link itself. Truth-out has the story   Brown also ordered to pay $900000 in fines and restitution.  Brown has created “Project PM”.  He supports the idea that information obtained by hackers is important. Brown was not accused of the hack itself, but of “after the fact” accessory activity, associated with Anonymous.  Brown had uncovered a plan (at the security firm Stratfor) to discredit Glenn Greenwald and Wikileaks.
  
Candice Bernd of Turthout reports the story here

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a detailed statement here
   
Kevin Gallagher speaks for “Free Barrett Brown” here.


The government reportedly tries to use the link to justify the longer sentence.  There is some question as to whether he gets credit for time served. 

The problems here including asking “who is a legitimate journalist” (including an amateur blogger), and who has crossed the line into “active participation”?  Any active blogger could stumble upon a link without knowing the information behind it, and be charged with conspiracy for sharing it.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Does First Amendment protect Brandon Duncan's lyrics; prosecuted for enticing gang activity in San Diego under 2000 law


When is an artist criminally responsible (or in civil cases, too) for violence his rap or works is thought to “inspire”?  I thought there was better First Amendment protection than this.  San Diego County, CA prosecutors are going after Brandon Duncan for supposed connection with up to nine gang-related shootings in San Diego, using a 2000 California law, Proposition 21, which could criminalize any activity with a street gang “with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in criminal gang activity.” But Duncan is promoting gang activity with his music?  Here’s a typical story
  
This whole thing has a weird structural parallel to Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law.
   
A conviction could lead to the California law's overturning in federal court as a "content-based restriction on free speech". 
     
Don Lemon and attorney Midran Charles covered the issue on CNN Tonight.
  
However, the RT article links to a story about a rapper (Denis Cuspert) in Germany who joined ISIS and is using it to recruit jihadists from Britain (Daily Mail, Nov. 2014, here  )


  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Copyright for Creativity" group in Europe issues a "Manifesto"


Here’s “The Copyright Manifesto” (oh, no, not another “pronouncement from on high”), for the European Union, from a group called “Copyright for Creativity”, with link here
   
The basic flaws concern the lack of a “fair use” idea and inconsistent specific “exceptions” among all the different constituent countries.

There is also a paper by Julia Reda that allows users to make comments, here

In fact, in Europe, there is no copyright exception for works produced in the public domain, and the legality of hyperlinks and embeds is questionable, although a decision made in November (reported here on January 14).
  
Many companies (especially producing independent film) often produce and distribute “European” works in the United States now because American law, for all its flaws, is still clearer. 

If only Aaron Swartz were still around…  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Past sermons, like "What it means to be a man" and "Why we don't get things done"


Back in 1966, when I started graduate school at the University of Kansas, I sometimes walked down to Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence from “Mt. Oread” (150 feet higher) to “regular” church services on Sunday mornings. 
  
I found a Presbyterian church where the minister gave funny sermons, including one “What it means to be a man”, and was willing to talk about James Bond movies, and about Sean Connery as a male role model for the times.  Really.
  
There was a Methodist church nearby where the minister one time gave a sermon, “Why don’t we get things done?”   That strikes me as important today.  At 71, I don’t have forever to complete my own path in life, and sometimes I can’t afford distractions, disruptions and delays. But there’s also the whole problem, we get diverted because we make little mistakes that at least then keep us on edge (in an OCD sense).  We make oversights because we aren’t paying enough attention to input coming at us until we are ready to listen to it.  Maybe it’s easier to pay attention when you have others to provide for.  That’s the paradox.  One could imagine a sermon “The Mind Your Own Business Society”.    

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Congregational meeting considers balance of individualism, teamwork, and old fashioned authoritarian "committees"


Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held a breakfast and lunch session (as well as the worship service) with congregational consultant Rev. Dr. John Wimberly  (site) , actually from the Presbyterian denomination.
  
During the “Sunday school” portion, Wimberly was discussing how “Generation X” (age 35-44) looks for church affiliation.  One interesting point is that this is the first generation that often experienced mandatory community service as a high school or sometimes college graduation requirement.  (For example, George Washington University in Washington DC will introduce incoming freshman to an “annual day of service” on a Saturday each September.)  And many volunteer groups now require training and minimum time commitments from volunteers as well as staffs. 
  
As a result, this group is used to the idea of “teamwork” as opposed to working in “committees”, which it sees as rather authoritarian. I used to associate the idea of committee with “draft board”, after all.
  
But “teamwork” has supplanted the idea of hyperindividualism, Dr. Wimberly said, in an answer to a question from me. I pointed out that the goal of a “team” can still demand commitment and loyalties that are inconsistent with personal achievement goals.  He said my attitude was the same as his was during the 1990s, as the Internet was taking shape, during the best of the Clinton years (a conservative Congress but relatively socially liberal by fiscally responsible president – Bill Clinton).  
The sermon was called "It Is Never Over", and I wondered if it would bear any relation to the film by Andrew Jenks, "It's Not Over", reviewed on the Movies blog Jan. 15.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

E-commerce sites, hosted by major providers, owned by small businesses, may be "safer" than major corporate retail sites


At a social gathering today, I did gain some useful “intelligence”.  It seems like merchant accounts do work pretty well for small businesses, and take care of the encryption requirements (and other customer information issues) to process credit cards.
  
I had been under the impression, ten years ago, that e-commerce hosting was much more expensive than general shared hosting, but now it seems to run $30-$80 a month (most companies would need the upper end).  High end non-commercial shared hosting is typically around $30 a month.
  
The business person said that small businesses using these services have not been vulnerable to the hacks that large companies (like Target, Home Depot, etc) have experienced. 

Some small businesses have card readers attached to smart phones.  It would sound as though debit cards would be a problem until the new chips are available.  But even newer debit cards will need to be protected by metal foil (ID blog Nov. 14, 2014). 
  
That brings up another question with sales of media items – individual book copies and CD’s or DVD’s.  I’ve pretty much depended on Amazon (and maybe BN) and as well as the original author publishing services operations (iUniverse, XLibris).  I have sold copies of books to people, usually from email, usually with check (Paypal is possible – see Books, Oct. 4, 2014). 
  
It has been common for authors to set up sites selling their books by themselves with their own merchant sites.  A few filmmakers have done this, selling DVD’s only this way before moving to Amazon, for several months at least.  I’m not sure what the sense of this is.  Possibly there is a “political” point, not giving in to the supposed “monopoly” of Amazon, especially (and some controversy over the way some authors – not me -- are affected by its Kindle purchase pricing). 
   
An author selling this way (often with copies printed for him or her at a volume discount) still needs to handle the name and address of a customer to send the book or CD, but would not need to keep it online. 
    
A merchant account, however, is predicated on volumes of items, and ordinary business concepts like price-points.  This is indeed “Shark Tank” selling, in theory.  Retailing or dealing with many individual customers (even in wholesale, as my own father did for decades) is the major objective.  It takes over the concern with content for its own sake, which is still my game.  I view all contact as interrelated, like in the movie “Cloud Atlas”.  I realize this is a controversial “model”, not sustainable for a lot of people, and only to be followed when life circumstances justify it.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Government still focused more on site "misuse" than on real security concerns (EFF); more on social media "brainwashing"


Electronic Frontier Foundation has a valuable piece criticizing the Obama administration’s (along with David Cameron in Britain) plans to improve cybersecurity and monitor the Internet for homeland security.  Given recent current events, the collective need to “watch our backs” is indeed very understandable. 
   
The link for the piece by Mark Jaycox and Lee Tien is here  However, the focus of EFF criticism seems to focus in large part on attempts to enlarge the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in ways that could catch a na├»ve user and put him in legal trouble.  For example, sharing a password to a paid video site, because of piracy concerns, might lead to increased prison sentences.  Of scanning a site for vulnerabilities, in order to report on them, could be a crime.  (Somehow, some organizations, like Carnegie’s CERT, can do this legally;  maybe a web security company, with some kind of license, could, but a blogger or graduate student writing a paper on vulnerabilities could not.) All of this is disturbing, given the lesson of Aaron Swartz. 
     
The comments by Obama and Cameron on being able to decrypt messages used by terrorists were general and non-specific at the news conference today (story on abc here). The problem is “going dark” when security services are precluded from looking at encrypted messages.  Cameron and EU officials want US companies to offer "back doors" into their encryption algorithms for detection of terrorists.  
       
There has been talk on CNN recently over whether social media is dangerous to young adults who are easily radicalized.  This issue came up on AC360 last night.  But David Cameron suggested that many jihadists had grown up with opportunity and advantages and doubted that radicalization was as simple as “brainwashing” on social media.  

Timothy Egan has a piece "Your Free Speech, and Mine, in the New York Times, here.  There really is a connection between free speech and acceptance of individualism, and the inequality that goes with innovation. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

European Union follows US 7th Circuit, not regarding embeds as possible copyright infringers in most cases


There is a case from the European Union that suggests that court still generally don’t recognize a website that embeds content that itself turns out to be infringing on copyright and gets removed, as guilty of contributory copyright infringement.
   
In Policy Review on Nov. 26, 2014, Philippa Warr writes about a case of BestWater mbh International v. Michael Mebes and Setfan Posch, and the writer is somewhat critical of the opinion as potentially encouraging more piracy, link here.  Also videos are the most common embeds, still images and PDF’s can also be included in “iframe”.  There’s another, even more detailed story Kluwer copyright blog here.
    
Generally, a blogger intending to embed just one video to illustrate something (like scenes from a movie, for a review) has no sure way of knowing that the original content does not infringe, although YouTube does have some automation that does prevent some infringing material from being uploaded.  I think a problem could occur if someone deliberately provided many embeds of the same source company with the intention of making it look like the content was the “embedder’s” and really wanted to encourage users to bypass paying for content as had been intended. 
    
The decision in Flava Works. v. Gunter (or myVidster) by the Seventh Circuit in Aug. 2012 still seems to hold.  The Wikipedia details are here and I haven’t heard of a SCOTUS appeal.  
  
The logic of the EU court is encouraging for free speech here, even if it wasn't so much with it's "right to be forgotten" ruling recently.

Monday, January 12, 2015

FEC oversight of blogs (with regard to campaign finance) might come up again, after ten years of peace


The Washington Times has an op-ed by Jenny Beth Martin and Matt Kibbe warning that Ann Ravel, the new chairman of the Federal Election Commission, will try to get rules changes from the FCC (less likely from a GOP Congress) allowing the FEC to regulate “free content” on the Internet, including blogs like this one, that could be construed as political advocacy.  The link is here. The title is "The FEC's Internet Gag Rule: Liberals don't want Americans speaking truth to power".  Indeed, sometimes they don't. 
   
Some of this is a reaction to recent Supreme Court rulings protecting paid political advertising as normal free speech. Much political advertising is nominally paid for, but “almost free” because it carries ads and generally does not try to earn significant revenue, except incidentally.  That is true of this one.
  
The FEC decided it could keep a hands-off attitude in 2006, after considerable flak earlier over whether blogs and op-eds were really “political campaign materials”, since a 2002 court ruling had left open that interpretation of McCain-Feingold.  I have explained this on Wordpress here in February 2014, link. Of course, whether "amateur blogs" and the "press" (or the French Fourth Estate) are legally the same also comes up into play, as noted Saturday. 
  

I’ve explained elsewhere a major incident at West Potomac High School in October 2005 involving me as a substitute teacher, in an improbable but coincidental chain of occurrences in response to a Washington Post article on October 11, 2005 here (“Cyber Loophole”) and a now notorious editorial in the Washington Times Oct. 12 “Suffocating the First Amendment” here which implied that a blog like mine could not be maintained without expensive legal gatekeeping.  The rest of the story s here on this blog July 27, 2007 and it sounds like a movie plot for a courtroom thriller (and, yes, I am working on a screenplay based on this.)  What happened behind the scenes is a "mystery" and I don't think we've heard the last of this even today.  
     
Let’s see if this FEC Beast has really surfaced again.  I know from some underground scuttlebutt that stuff happened there after this controversy ten years ago. History repeats itself.  As a "conservative" newspaper, TWT loves to see that. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Revisiting the Newseum's First Amendment exhibits after the recent serious "real world" challenges (violence in France, threats to Sony)


Today, late in the afternoon, after visiting the NBC4 Health Expo, I stopped at the Newseum, near the Archives Metro Stop (Green Line) to renew my membership, having missed the demonstrations in the cold Wednesday night there in support of Charlie Hebdo, slain (with up to 15 others) in France by Islamic extremists this week.
  

I did visit the small addition to the Civil Rights exhibit to see the posters from the Ferguson, MO protest (only item was from Missouri, but hopefully the Newseum will add a lot of other material on this soon), and then went and reviewed the First Amendment exhibit on the same level.
  
The First Amendment has separate provisions for Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom to Petition.  They are not exactly the same things.  A court ruling favorable to one of them doesn’t always guarantee a similar ruling on the others, although it may influence it. It's interesting that the government has been willing to pass sedition laws when it sees fit, despite the First Amendment;  in World War I, criticizing the military draft was seen as an unacceptable threat to national security, precisely over the irony that Woodrow Wilson (a Democrat) needed the power to force young males to sacrifice themselves.  
  

The exhibit has panels on “modern issues” for each one of these.  The main modern setting for “freedom of speech” is, of course, the Internet (cyber-freedom). 
  

For Freedom of the Press, there was a panel examining the question as to whether amateur bloggers have the same protections as the formal press.  The courts have generally been favorable to this notion (as with the COPA case), although maybe less so in the area of shielding journalists from disclosing sources. 
  

There was also a panel regarding a blogger who was sued by Apple for disclosing trade secrets.  The big case involved “Think Secrets” run by Nick Ciarelli, Wired story of the resolution here (the blogger lost and had to shut down his site). There is a useful presentation on the problem here. (Section 230 was mentioned in the litigation.) 


The resolve to defend “freedom of the press” in the wake of the attacks in France seems strong, but most media outlets will not publish the “cartoons”.  One could say that, with respect to Islam, the cartoons present a similar degree of offense to the “n” and “f” words in western culture.  More disturbing is the question of whether social media and amateur blogging could be construed as endangering the public.  “Social media” and public blogs are not the same thing – the latter is more “true publishing” for its own sake, and these can have different impacts. Blogs have sometimes been a tool for radicalization and providing instructions, just as social media can provide a tool for “recruiting” and both could allow steganography (a point often made right after 9/11 but quickly forgotten).  I’m reading the rather naysaying book “The Internet Is Not the Answer” by “Andrew Keen”.  I’ll review it soon (I had reviewed “The Cult of the Amateur” on June 26, 2007).  So far, he’s mainly talking about job loss, but he does consider Internet fame an unearned, false reward that might not hold up forever as a fundamental right if others are really put in jeopardy, however indirectly. 


Thursday, January 08, 2015

EFF addresses online harassment as very difficult to deal with in practice


In the wake of the attacks in France, Electronic Frontier Foundation today has a short piece  by Sophia Cope and Jillian York, but a much longer and I think more pertinent piece “Facing the Challenge of Online Harassment”, by Nadia Kayyali and Danny O’Brien, link here . The article discusses the right problem: it’s not occasional snarky comments, but the possibility that controversial content attracts the hostility of the wrong individual or group, very often an interest that experiences the world from an authoritarian, and often (but not always) fundamentally religious perspective.  Sometimes the authoritarianism is representative of the extreme right (racist or homophobic views) or extreme left (overwrought indignation about “exploitation”), or some kind of statist “nationalism” (Vladimir Putin’s mentality).    
  
EFF points out (as did a comparable piece by Peter Bergen on CNN, linked on my International Issues blog Wednesday night) that the practical consequences for people have sometimes been severe, and beyond the pale of law, such as being driven “off the web” or even forced to change hiding – with witness protection and changed identities as the outlier.  In fact, the 2006 Lifetime film by Timothy Bond, “Family in Hiding” is one of the most difficult to watch I have ever encountered.  I am reminded of the song by Otto Blucker, “Find You”, where Belgian actor Timo Descamps sings “Hiding isn’t what we do; hiding isn’t what we’re made for, even when the pain goes through, we survive” (link ). 
  
EFF also points out that it is very difficult to craft legislation to curb harassment without becoming overbroad. A critical and double-edged controversy concerns anonymity, or, on the other hand, Facebook's policy requiring real names. EFF also mentioned a proposal in the UK to require websites to log all visitors (the Guardian reference did not work), but web hosting services normally provide user access logs identifying IP addresses, files visited, and search arguments used.  This was particularly useful to me in 2005 when I had an "incident" while substitute teaching. 
  

In 2000, a particular person got upset over a review I had written of the film version of Sebastian Junger’s “A Perfect Storm” on (now defunct) Hometown AOL’s old “Movie Grille” board.  I had commented on how the fisherman characters in the film felt compelled to risk taking their ship through the storm because they would not get paid.  The person thought I was arrogant in interpreting the author’s and director’s intentions, and seemed to confuse a comment with what happens in a movie with endorsement of the political condition that allowed it to happen.  He sent some nasty emails (in the days before spam) before stopping.  A few times in movie and book reviews, people have confused an author’s or film’s position about an issue with the idea that I must be supporting it because I even mentioned it.  

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A visit to a "Boyhood" mandatory boot camp site


Yesterday, I did a day trip to the western Chesapeake Bay in winter, trying to find the point where the family used to take the ferry in the 1950s on the way to “the Beach” years before Bay Bridge was built.  I visited Beverly Beach, where we once stayed when I was about three, and particularly Camp Letts, a YMCA facility (link) which my parents made me attend as a boy to toughen me, I think.  I didn’t like the pressure.


You enter the property off Md 214, itself off Rt 2 south of Annapolis, and pass an estate, before the road turns dirt and potholed.  But it goes past an endless trail of outdoor activities: most of all, equestrian, but also paintball, “team building”, and eventually winding up with an extensive camping community with a variety of yurts, huts, tents and dorms. It rather looks like the “boot camp” community on “another planet” in my screenplay (“Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted” – or is that “Abducted”).  In the twilight, in winter but without snow (yet) and a purple “perpetual twilight” sunset, it was all quite surreal, indeed seeming like the first day of alien captivity (maybe around a much cooler “Sun”).  I could say that it looked a bit like an intentional community (see Issues blog, April 7 2012 discussion of “Twin Oaks”) but much more stark.
  

The point of my 1952 (estimated) visit was to get me to learn more manly skills.  I even recall my own piano teacher saying, when I was about nine, that I needed to grow up to be a “normal boy”. 
That’s how it was then.  The view was, that for the good of everybody, boys became men who protected women and children, sacrificially if necessary.  When push came to shove, the future of your tribe or your family came before your own specific future, however special your talents.  Today, tribal societies that perceive themselves (often with justification) to have enemies still follow these values, often masked my religious scripture. 
  
I’ve noted that I will produce a “video” soon that summarizes my books, not assuming you’ve read, say, the first one.  A overriding question is, how people who seem themselves as “different” or even “special” should behave in a reasonably democratic society, or perhaps too in an authoritarian one.  Coercion often forces us to look at our values.  (In “Smallville”, the super-talented alien teen Clark Kent says, “I’m different, not special.”
  

There are several major observations about my own “different” life that seem unsettling, although it’s not clear how they add up. 
  
One is that I was not as able to “take care” of others physically as expected, and I became finicky.  Some might even say sissy or cowardly.  The “moral” point is that I left the “risk taking” and “dirty work” to others, if I walked away from my share.  This was the mentality that had driven male-only conscription in the days of the Vietnam-era draft (and deferments).  I’m not sure if this was real “disability” in the usual sense of genetics (or epigenetics) and congenital hardship.  Maybe it was part of autism, in that to develop my “talents” (music, intellect), my brain, not having enough disk space, pruned out the other possible motor skills too soon. 
  

This did affect my values.  I did not sense even a latent desire to father my own children, have my own lineage.  Since I was an only child, this could be interpreted as “family death”.  Therefore, I did not develop a proto-instinctual desire to “have” women (or have intercourse) the way straight boys in college typically talk.  On the other hand, I did develop an elitist attitude.  I saw some young men, who “had it all”, as possessing more “virtue” than others – yet they could “lose it” in an absolute sense by sacrifice for others, as in the military.  I did not develop a sense of compassion for those with less or the “less fortunate”.  This led to a sense of indifference or insularity as an adult, in situations that seem to call for solidarity, loyalty, and particularly emotion.  But my “Ayn Rand” attitude really did not seem unusual in the world in which I grew up.  In earlier generations, there was less that really could be done for people with disabilities, or to prolong lives for those with deadly diseases, especially cancer.  There was not a public expectation that they need a lot of support as there is in the media today, although there was support of a different sort in faith-based fellowship.  So I wound up in a peculiar situation, like an alien observer, living on the fringes but seeing everything, privileged but precarious.
  

Socialization in earlier times presented a bit of a paradox.  You took care “of your own” first.  Ideas of sexual morality – the often religious idea that all sexuality should be reserved strictly for those in intimate committed marriages raising children and (as life spans increased gradually) taking care of the elderly – was seen as a way to make things “locally fair” and get everyone to do what they should.  It is easier to find real satisfaction in “family values” if you know everyone else has to.  So a public homosexual was a distraction, having less responsibility for others and more disposable income for himself, suddenly difficult to compete with in the workplace because he might work for less, and capable of making “normal men” feel less secure that their own marital sexuality will remain rewarding.
  
By the 1990s, society had become much more “accommodating” for someone “like me” – more libertarian, less inclined to try to channel those who are “different” to ready themselves for sacrifice sometimes for the good of others.  Times were better under Clinton, as the Internet offered new opportunities for self-expression without gatekeepers, for those who did not compete was well socially in a conventional way within a power or authority structure.  Controversy over sexual orientation and its indirect influence on everyone else, was shown to be a proxy for something much bigger. One of the biggest concerns was that my "fantasy projection" could undermine the ability of others to make and keep marital relationships that become challenged by hardships, including risk taking and "sacrifice".
    
But many of the problems since 2000 – most of all 9/11 – showed again that hyperindividualsim could be dangerous, and could bring on the enemies, who suddenly were all too willing to blame ordinary individuals for benefiting from the indulgences that their own governments had facilitated.  At the same time, the role of bad luck for some and bad karma for many of the rest of us was becoming apparent, especially with younger people.  New openness to volunteering and charity was seen in the media, and sometimes it was supposed to get personal.  Suddenly, the lives of others were “your business”.  Having made myself a bit of an Internet pundit without the normal personal responsibility for others, I found others constantly knocking on the door, sometimes with a lot of coercion, to drop what I was doing and become more involved with the very immediate needs of others (beyond just joining “other people’s causes), even though I had never procreated my own family.  It all came full circle.