Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Web 2.0 overview

Web 2.0

There has been a lot of hype about this buzzword in the last couple of years. The term was proposed by O’Reilly Media in 2004. It has become formal enough that the United States Patent and Trademark Office registered "Word 2.0" as a mark in 2006 for CMP Media. It is supposed to represent a migration from a paradigm where the Word Wide Web is largely a repository of rapidly and cheaply published but static content, to one which interacts with and provides sophisticated services to visitors. The original web seemed like a adjunct to low-cost desktop publishing that had developed in the 90s and that was self-publishing books and periodicals.

One development that helped lead to “2.0” is the search engine. I originally viewed my own site as a repository of expanded footnotes for those who had bought my books. Around 1998 and 1999, search engines started to become much more effective in making novice content likely to be found by others. This is largely an artifact of the way binary searches and exponents work in mathematics. This possibility is gradually recognized as affecting the way people receive and interpret information, and it could have major legal consequences. It is significant that most search engines no longer required publishers code metatags with search terms in order to become effectively indexed.

Some of the components are wikis, social networking sites, folksonomies, and a variety of mobile services to enable rapid communication between parties when on the road. The latter has included developing hyptertext language conventions suitable for display in a smaller space, as on a cell phone. A variety of tools, such as syndication with RSS feeds, allow publishers to interact more directly with end visitors.

Wikis, or course, bring up the idea of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. In general, wikes are sites that allow users to modify content with minimal or no registration or professional certification. They even use specialized human-readable languages like MediaWiki, instead of hard-coded HTML or even HTML generated in a more usual manner from XML components. Wikis emphasize collaborative authoring. They have been criticized by educators and journalists as a source of reliable research information, but these criticisms could be met by providing bibliographic links and references to more conventional “old school” sources.

One capability of interest to me is the capability to correlate different lines of argument and associated history of incidents on a database and then display them in a format where the visitor can get an idea of the full scope of a problem (like, say, “gays in the military”, or “employers checking social networking sites”). I have tried to do that on my own sites (however static and “Web 1.0” they are) by organizing the arguments around the chapters of my first book.. I’ve also proposed another hypothetical organization here in a Mockup Database, here. I have also been experimenting with this idea with MySQL and java.

A folksomony is a user-generated content label. Wikipedia contrasts this with a “taxonomy” which is a static label assigned by an author, content originator, or some kind of controlled bureaucratic process. The idea of content labels to protect children, such as by ICRA (discussed on my other blog is essentially related to the idea of taxonomy. Customer controls have always, until now, been applied in the home (and the new Microsoft operating system VISTA greatly increases this capability) or by businesses at work. To enable users (outside of whitelists and blacklists) to label the content of others’ sites would represent a potentially significant advance in protecting minors, could be legally significant in the constitutional battle going on over Internet censorship (COPA).

The social networking site was conceived as a way for people to meet and interact within specific communities (like college campuses). However, because the profiles and blogs are often available on the web in the public space, they have become controversial and employers have become concerned about them, especially since about the middle of 2005. Social networking companies have been developing models to restrict the users of these sites to members known to be legitimately associated with their respective communities, so that they should not be viewed as a “publication” tool.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Personal blogs and the workplace: "do not mention"

A new wrinkle: A "Do not mention" policy for personal blogs

Earlier posts on this blog have expressed considerable concern of employer (prospective and sometimes current) checking of employee’s personal blog, social networking profiles and other websites.

One policy that seems to show up sometimes is what one might call “do not mention.” The employer will say (mainly to lower level employees of the “individual contributor” type), please do not mention your own websites, profiles, publications, or political or sometimes even religious activities in the workplace, or particularly to clients. It is a kind of gentle “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This kind of policy could be particularly attractive to school districts.

Why this variation? After all, the individual voluntarily put his work in the public space and let the search engines have at it. It’s fair game, isn’t it. Yes. But in many cases, an employer may not be absolutely sure that the posting belongs to that specific employee, particularly if the employee has a common name. If the employee mentions the blog at work, this, in a legal sense, proves the “suspicion.” A policy like this seems neutral with respect to the kind of name a person has – a common English name, or an ethnic name or one suggesting religious affiliation. This would sound sensible in view of legally driven non-discrimination requirements for the workplace in most situations.

An employer fears that if it knows definitely that problematic content really was posted by an employee, it might in some cases have to act, or face downstream liability risks. This is particularly the case with fake “pseudo self incrimination” or “dreamcatching” sometimes found on social networking site postings, often by high school and college students. A person may believe that he or she makes a valid political point. Yet, the law regards a statement made in a public space as to be taken at face value (under the normal rules of defamation familiar in printed materials before the Internet). This is an example of the “rebuttable presumption” concept made notorious in 1993 when the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays was codified into law.

Of course, some content still would have to be tracked down when found anyway, if, for example, it gave away trade secrets.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Chat room speech, informality, and language

Anne Pleshette Murphy and Jennier Allen have a story “Webspeak: The Secret Language of Teens” at ABC’s Good Morning America site;
the story was broadcast on January 25, 2007. The report maintains that the abbreviated words and slang are showing up in term papers and even college admissions.

Languages, as they get older, tend to become simplified. English does not pay as much attention to endings with conjugation and with adjectival agreement as do many other languages. On the other hand, English is filled with odd spellings (because of words coming from multiple sources), and idioms. Most Romance and Germanic languages have stricter conjugation rules for subjunctive mood than does English, so sometimes it is easier in these languages to distinguish fact from supposition, a concept with potential legal consequences. On the other land, Chinese apparently has no grammar at all and depends a lot on pitch. The old Basque language has only nouns and verbs.

Elaborate rules of grammar, however, give a language an advantage in some cases. It is easier to be very clear about what a sentence means, even out of context. Judges (as in the COPA case, to which I am a party) are already expressing concern about the legal consequences of “implicit content” with respect to material self-posted on the Internet.

Teens, of course, find simplicity and directness of speech to be “cool.” This has become most evident in chat rooms and in text messages. Over time, will this have an effect on what is acceptable in standard written communication? Maybe.

I have been “guilty” of this in my own books. In Chapter 2 of my first DADT book, as I prepare a discussion of student deferments from the military draft in the Vietnam era, I write at one point:

"Algebra invokes the manipulation of symbols as surrogates for numbers or objects. As a child, it had sounded like a great mystery, doing arithmetic or `figuring' with `letters' rather than numbers. Some people never understand the abstraction, and stay back at the grade school level where you never do your `number work' in ink."

A reviewer picked out and criticized this passage. First, taken literally, “algebra” is in apposition to the word “child” whereas I had intended “as” to be an idiomatic contraction for “when I was a …” It got past the proofreader, and this is "almost" acceptable today, at least in speech. With the preposition “to” the sentence could not be misread. The reviewer also complained about the abrupt switch to second person. That was intended to be informal, because “you” is often used in an impersonal way as if it were really third person. (In French, “vous” serves that purpose in place of “tu” sometimes.) The clause was supposed to a reference to what it felt like to be a kid doing math in grade school in the 50s.

Students should always prepare their academic papers in formal English. (Therefore, the cited paragraph would read "When I was a child ... " and later "when students never do arithmetic in ink.") However, some informality in books of a personal nature can be effective and make convey the author's feelings, as he or she experienced things, seem more real.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Schools and standard news sources discourage use of Wikipedia

School systems report that they discourage students from citing Wikipedia as sources in research papers, largely because of Wikipedia's "amateur" origins and its admitted "lack of credibility" which is more of an admitted lack or guaratee of credibility.

Wealthier public school systems often purchase professional databases (such as World Book Online) whose information has supposedly been validated. Students may not always be able to use these easily from home, however.

In the old days, back in the late 1950s to 1961, in high school, I went through the exercise of keeping bibliographic information from published books and periodicals on index cards. Whole class periods were dedicated to making these cards, which had to be turned in with term papers. We were expected to go into DC (on the bus -- pre Metro days) and use the old library on Mass. Avenue and 9th St, as the libraries in Arlington then were much less adequate.

Likewise, professional news organizations don't allow citing of Wikipedia (or sites like mine) directly, although they can certainly use "accredited" sources that we often provide ourselves as references, and they can get the idea to cover a subtle issue from us in the first place.

Wikipedia raises an interesting philosophical question: should a speaker have to "earn" the right to be in the public space, or should material itself have to earn that right? It sounds like an incredible question to ask now. The freedom to publish democratizes the Internet and prevents one group in power from controlling what is published. But it is harder to say what is really credible.

For schools, where curriculums are politicized in the cultural wars, restricing accepted sources to those that have been officially "published" in the traditional manner may seem convenient. But the broader and controversial material from amateur sources is still out there.

Here is an interesting essay from Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax, Va. (almost adjacent to the George Mason University campus), school paper Valor Dictus, "Student Wikipedia Use on Rise," article by Chris Rice, at this link. (This is a blog on The Washington Post site.)

I have an earlier post about Wikipedia and "democracy in publishing" and Open Source, based on an ABC Nightline story, here (look for Sept. 13)

Update: 03-22-2007

NBC Nightly News had another story on the reliability of Wikipedia on March 22, 2007 . There is a correlated news story by Lisa Daniels and Alex Johnson, "The Word on Wikipedia: Popular online encycloperdia, plagued by errors, troubles educators", at this link. Many schools are not allowing Wikipedia to be cited as a primary source, although better Wikipedia articles often themselves point to conventional sources (which I also try to do on my own blogs).

Picture: actual index cards from a Va and US Government Class in 12th Grade, probably around December 1960, Washington-Lee High School, Arlington VA.

Monday, January 22, 2007

News stories on arrests remain on web

Newspaper and local television station websites typically report arrests of persons in a position of public or custodial trust (such as teachers). Police department websites often make available such arrest announcements. In some cases, charges are dropped, or are adjuicated administratively or non-judicially (somewhat like a military "Article 15") with pseudo "plea agreements" with eventual dropping of charges after the individual completes a period of medical treatment or rehabilitation. Even so, stories of arrests have been remaining on the Internet, easy for prospective employers (maybe even landlords) to find with search engines. Police departments typically remove such stories but (as I have noticed recently) often they remain available in search engine results and can be downloaded from search engine caches, by anyone looking for background information on the individual. This matter would seem to deserve attention. (Caches can be deleted, as can Internet archive records, when requested.) Should people be penalized when there is no conviction record?

A related story about a civil registry in Ohio (back from September 2006) is on blogger here.

A blog story on companies that "clean online reputations" here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lobbying Reform and Blogging: A scare with S. 1, Section 220

We had another scare about blogging and campaign finance/lobbying reform recently. On January 19, 2007 the U.S. Senate considered and passed legislation for lobbying and ethics reform (to be distinguished, I guess, from campaign finance reform). The bill was S. 1, and Section 220 appeared to require reporting of grassroots activism. According to some accounts, even amateur bloggers would have been required to make formal reports, although the trigger conditions were not clear. That could have meant more than 500 blog entries in a year, or more than 500 visitors (many amateur blogs get tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands or even millions of page requests a year, the mathematics of which is well known to the Internet advertising industry).

Richard A. Viguerie has organized Grassrootsfreedom.com and had written

“In what sounds like a comedy sketch from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, but isn’t, the U. S. Senate would impose criminal penalties, even jail time, on grassroots causes and citizens who criticize Congress.

According to Education Watch, Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) had said:

"Some defenders of Section 220 say that these requirements would apply only if the activist is an employee of an organization that spends more than $10,000 in a calendar quarter on such ``grassroots lobbying activity.'' Regrettably, they are mistaken--that may have been the intent, but it is not the language of Section 220...under Section 220, even $1 per quarter spent to ``stimulate'' citizens to communicate with their representatives in Congress triggers the registration and reporting requirement, for an individual who meets the other four numbered criteria in our previous paragraph."

Those four criteria are these:

"If Section 220 is enacted, the activist will learn that she must register with the federal government as a ``lobbyist'' and file quarterly reports detailing her efforts to stimulate ``grassroots lobbying,'' of any dollar amount, if (l) she is paid any sort of salary, (2) spends more than 20 percent of her time on such grassroots activities, (3) presents the motivating communications to more than 500 persons who are not paying members of the organization, and (4) has communicated with a congressional office or Executive Branch official more than once during a calendar quarter (for example, by sending an e-mail or making a phone call advising a Senate office of the organization's position on a pending vote)."

Certainly my blogs and websites certainly would qualify for part (3), and I correspond with Congressman Moran once a month or so and often speak to his office. I am unpaid (at least for now).

One measure that did pass was a requirement to disclose “bundling” of small separate campaign contributions into larger donations.

The Washington Post
story is by Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, “Senate Passes Ethics Package – Parties Reach Hard-Fought Deal on Lobbying and Other Reforms”

Many perks remain intact

On Saturday, Jan. 20, John Solomon had a story in The Washington Post, "New Rules Still Allow Congress Many Perks: Policies on Lobbying Are Selectively Strict," link here. The story contained some disturbing details about the football game perks for a Republic Ohio Congressman (and Minority leader) John A. Boehner, who is involved in bills that might further restrict social networking sites like MySpace.com .

On Monday, February 12, 2007, David D. Kirkpatrick provided a story to The New York Times, "Congress Finds Ways of Avoiding Lobbyist Limits; Rules Are Only Weeks Old; Prohibited From Accepting Trips, Lawmakers Run Them ti Raise Cash".

Special interests hire relatives of lawmakers

Apparently this "family friendly" (sic) practice is still permitted. On Feb. 8, 2007 Elizabetg Willaimson reported in The Washington Post, "Railroad Firms Bringing Aboard Lawmakers' Lobbyist Relatives," at this link.

On Feb. 16, 2007 Michael D. Shear had a story "Virginia Bar Could Reverse Limit on Firms Hiring Legislators," to remove an ethics rule that bars state legislators from being hired like lobbyists, here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lobbyist Barbara Kennelly's form letter on social security

On January 17, 2007 I received at by business mailbox an 11 in x 12 in envelope from Lansdale, PA, from Barbara Kennelly, CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Ms Kennelly (not Kennedy!) had served in the U.S. Congress for seventeen years as a ranking member of the Social Security Committee and of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The package did contain a six page letter explaining the accomplishments of the committee. They are discussed in a separate blog entry.

The package also contained a blue form letter, very professionally printed, to be mailed to Representative James P. Moran, D, 8th District, Virginia. Part of the letter reads

“As you know, President Roosevelt and Congress created Social Security in 1935 to protect retired Americans from experiencing … ‘poverty-ridden old age.’ … Social Security and Medicare represent a covenant between the government and its citizens. I therefore stand against plans to privatize either of these programs in any way that will harm of diminish these critically important protections against poverty and the devastating coast of medical care.”

I don’t dispute the validity of this argument, although personally I agree with plans to give individuals more control of their retirement assets, including eventually social security. What concerns me is the message of lobbying and contacting legislators this way. It says “I need more of the pie. I am getting stepped on. I am a victim….” This way of contacting legislators, with slick form letters prepared on K-Street assumes that average constituents have no ability or responsibility to think through issues for themselves in any reasonably objective fashion.

Of course, the reality is that most of corporate America is adversarial in nature and that people get paid to behave in a one-sided manner in public all the time. In fact, many people depend on organizations and unions to represent them in a collective manner, and collective bargaining is a longstanding legally recognized right, connected to expressive association in the First Amendment. Still, high school and college education in social studies is supposed to teach students to think critically and see issues from objective overview (although the battles over curricula in some sensitive areas

The controversy of blogging and social networking profiles ultimately ties into this problem. Some people, by their public job responsibilities, may be precluded from expressing themselves in a public space and have only collective expressive association to represent their needs. Nevertheless, individually written letters to representatives are much more appropriate than mailings like the one I received. Most Representatives and Senators have efficient ways to contact them through email; Jim Moran’s site has a panel for sending letters through the Internet. Also, most have staff that is reasonably responsive to individual phone calls; at least my own representatives in the Senate and House here in Virginia do.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Blogging and the FEC: Redux

In March 2005 Bradley Smith wrote a stinging editorial “The Coming Crackdown on Blogging:… the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over” for News.com, link here. We had a lesson in experience about the power of just one blogger with the 2006 interim elections when Republicans lost control of Congress, partly because of Mark Foley’s email behavior with pages. But this posting, now aged by two years, referred to the brewing controversy then over campaign finance reform, McCain-Feingold, and the possibility (after a court opinion) that bloggers would have to be regulated because they were making “indirect” campaign contributions.

The Washington Post and Washington Times faced off on Oct 11 and Oct 12 2005 with two editorials, “Cyber Loophole” and “Suffocating the First Amendment”. The Times was concerned that most bloggers who commented on political matters at all could be shut down unless they had the deep pockets of publishing giants to hire lawyers to perform the necessary due diligence of campaign law compliance.

Congress had tried to relieve this issue with an “Online Freedom of Speech Act” HR 1606, and in early 2006 the Federal Elections Commission provided with relief with rules that seemed reasonable enough, for the most part, focusing on reportable contributions to bloggers. “Free entry” people like me would be left alone. Here are two relevant links: Press release, and pdf file.

The editorial battle in October 2005 was tangentially involved with a workplace incident that affected me, and I can’t be real specific yet as to how. I can say, however, that the FEC issue (of two years ago) is similar in principle to a debate that is going on today about employers’ concern over associates’ and applicants’ blogs and social networking sites, regarding such possibilities as compromise of confidentiality and the accidental downstream liability that could result from “dreamcatching” – mock self-defamation to make political points. Other concerns include attracting hecklers or vandals, although there is much that can be done technically (in security areas) yet to reduce these risks.

Cyberspace, and particularly the blogosphere, has become an alternate dominion, or perhaps a “Pan’s Labyrinth” for introverts who do not like competing in conventional familial, social and business hierarchies. This is a particularly sensitive matter now with LGBT issues and people, who may resist being forced to prove that they can “compete” and “pay their dues” according to established social norms. And, as we have often seen, so much of conventional politics and executive leadership of business is about being paid to take sides and ignore intellectual honesty.

Supreme Court to Review Naming Names Limits in McCain-Feingold

Robert Barnes and Matthew Mosk have a story in the January 20, 2007 The Washington Post, "High Court to Revisit Campaign Finance Law: New Lineup on Bench Will Consider Ad Limits", at this link. Although the McCain-Feingold law as a whole was upheld 5-4 by the Supreme Court in 2002, an appeals court (3 judges) overturned the provision on mentioning specific candidates in issue-oriented ads within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election.

Family 360 - Executives get performance reviews from families

Betsy Stark of ABC World News Tonight on Jan 16, 2006 gave a report about a company called "Family 360" (website), which provides a "performance appraisal" on a father or mother from other family members. The service appears to be marketed to corporate executives as a brake against deterioration of family life because of corporate job responsibilities. The ABC News link is here. A parent gets a computerized reported scored very much like a job performance appraisal.

Companies will probably say that this kind of service goes hand in hand with Employee Assistance programs. I would hope that this doesn't fall into the recent strategy of "reputation management" that some companies are starting to offer (especially to executives) for the online presence. It does seem to fit the "family values" paradigm.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

O.J. Account -- would it be legally defamatory?

Linda Deutsch has an AP story today where O.J. Simpson claims that his fictitious account of Nicole's death in 1994 is not a "confession."

The Newsweek story by Mark Miller, "Evidence of Guilt: But what did he say: an exclusive look at the critical chapter: at this link. There is a discussion baord there, too.

Had someone else written and published the account without permission and it was untrue, it would be libel. Does that mean that when Simpson authorizes it himself it is "self-defamation"? Of course, there is no double jeopardy and even the civil trial (wrongful death) is long since settled, but the principle seems important. Many le have gotten into trouble with "self-defamation" on social networking sites and blogs when they think they are making a political point (to protest underage drining laws, or the various ages of majority, ranging from age of consent to the age at which one can rent a car). Employers and sometimes even law enforcement worries about this. The military gay ban is based on a similar premise, that voluntary statements are evidentiary of a propensity for future behavior.

Although Judith Regan was fired for her attempt to publish the book, it still could show up later under a smaller publisher.

DC area talk show host Victoria Jones used to love to speculate about O.J. in the middle 1990s.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bloggers as journalists

Alan Sipress, “To Casual To Sit on Press Row: Bloggers Credentials Lifted with Seats at the Libby Trial, in The Washington Post, Jan. 11, 2007 provides a somewhat Dilbert-like discussion of the upcoming trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, with two seats reserved for bloggers (and 98 for the established press). Here is the story.

Of course, it’s still pretty hard for a newbie blogger to get in to an event like this, and as I have written, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not constitutionally identical concepts.

The article has a checklist about journalistic standards that bloggers ought to adhere to. I’ll run down through my own practice:

Spend extra time verifying facts: Generally, I post material already published by the “established press” but when possible I will try to find more than one source, particularly with the tricky legal concepts that come up with respect to the web. Some facts are passed on personal experiences.

Quote other people directly: Generally not. There are rare exceptions.

Get permission to post copyrighted material: If the quote is short and would be covered by the “fair use” doctrine, I don’t ask permission. (The same goes for links). On a few occasions, people have sent me material to be posted.

Include links to source materials: Absolutely, yes. That is the value of the Internet, and the value of blogging, to draw disparate materials together to draw original conclusions.

Post corrections. Absolutely, yes. When I find an error or someone else does and contacts me, I correct it as quickly as possible. The only issue is travel or having the cable service down, and I hope to improve this with wireless.

Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco has a page that discusses bloggers as journalists: this link.

There is another story in the Post the same day by Sara Kehaulani, “Product Reviews and Links Turn Pages Into Profit” and it mentions companies like Chitika, PayPerPost, and ReviewMe, as well as, of course, Amazon (and Linkshare, which offers McAfee). I already have some ads on these blogs and I will look into the possibility of adding others. I want to make sure that my right to remain objective is not compromised.

I had an earlier posting along these lines, at this link.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bill of Rights 2: Redux

The “payoff” of my first DADT book was a proposed constitutional amendment strengthening the Bill of Rights with a detailed list of fundamental rights. The text is "TWENTY-EIGHTH AMENDMENT" here.

Of course, many people think that it is dangerous to tinker with the Bill of Rights, and when they were added, there was controversy that its very existence implied that the federal government has powers beyond what is explicitly stated. Later, with the 14th Amendment, there was further controversy about the incorporation doctrine, application of the Bill of Rights to limit the powers of states.

During the 1990s, there was considerable talk in libertarian circles that the main causes of social injustice come from government itself. An underlying concern was the desire of government to meet the needs of one person, however needy, by expropriating property or freedom from someone else; however such “Robin Hood” motives appeal to some people, they often hid a motive to buttress existing political power. It was easy to come up with a long list of potential abuses of the individual by government. For example

. Sodomy laws (now addressed by Lawrence v. Texas, 2003, but in the 90s the law of the land was Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986.
. Cohabitation laws
. Miscegenation laws (invalided in 1967)
. Laws protecting someone from harming himself with “controlled substances” (the “War on Drugs”)
. Internet censorship laws aimed at protecting minors (CDA, COPA)
. Abortion (a real conundrum, with the “right to choose” in opposition, as established by Roe v. Wade)
. Contraception laws (before Griswold v. Conn, 1962)
. Conscription (the draft was stopped in 1973, but even now there is talk of resuming it, as well as “national service” and the effective “backdoor draft” in Iraq)
. “The right to be left alone” – often discussed with other problems in this list but of particular concern to military servicemembers (the military gay ban for which “don’t ask don’t tell” was a clumsily conceived compromise from Bill Clinton), teachers, law enforcement personnel, people with security clearances and other sensitive jobs
. Older laws that had made racial minorities second class citizens (Japanese interment, the Jim Crow laws, older constitutional provisions that had made blacks legally partial persons)
. Eminent domain
. Civil asset forfeiture
. Gun control
. Zoning and abusive licensing laws hampering small business

Generally, the argument went like this: if governments could not enact such measures, the greater individual freedom would promote equality and social justice. There was discussion in some circles of a “Bill of Rights 2”. I developed this with a major essay in 1999.

One can debate whether these “threats” should be met with amendments, litigation (often done), or the normal political process, which always invites “the tyranny of the majority.” Many of these laws are motivated by notions of “public morality” which is seen at odds with individual sovereignty or personal autonomy—a desire to protect the most vulnerable through the family structure.

Of course, the idea of constitutional amendment has been abused in the gay marriage debate. But in the 1990s there was actually a lot of scholarly work on the constitutional amending process, as in the work of John Vile, reviewed here.

It is constructive to go back and review the notion of “fundamental rights”, which I take up in this slide show, and in my “Our Fundamental Rights” booklet (1998).

Associated with “fundamental rights” is the issue of “social rights,” like universal health care, which generally can only be secured by taxation or by government management to protect some citizens at the expense to others. The concept of individual “moral hazard” comes up, which to many is an offensive idea.

A social philosophy that would encourage buttressing individual rights further has a flip side – hyperindividualism, that can have disturbing implications for meaningful family life and the ability to both raise children and care for the elderly, down the road, as well as for the participation of the disabled in productive society. If one, for example, postulates that one has a “social right” to custodial care and meaningful social interaction when in extreme old age or disability, then responsibilities, particularly filial responsibility, has to be expected of others. Liberals and conservatives, then, debate how collective responsibilities must be shared, but the more subtle point is that it is painful to be forced into awareness of them (ideas like “moral hazard”) at all.

See the associated discussion of the marriage amendments and DOMA at this blog entry.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Nolan Chart: Do political labels matter?

Does it make sense to try to apply political labels?

At libertarian party booths at state fairs, it has been popular to offer passers-by the opportunity to take “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” (offered by Advocates for Self-Government, in Catersville, GA, which I visited in 1998; link here: );, connected to a graphic object called the Nolan Chart, an explanation on Wikipeida here.

The conceot of a square with corners that correspond to Authoritarian, Conservative, Libertarian, and Liberal seems very neat. The idea of making a vector dot product of economic liberties with social liberties also sounds very straightforward.

I talked about this early in Chapter 5 of my first DADT book (the “manifesto” or “screed”), and again in Chapter 6. At other times, I speak loosely of conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism as points of a triangle (not necessarily equilateral), as of authoritarianism could be easily discounted. Maybe not, as even Wikipedia associates authoritarianism with a false populism. And authoritarian societies follow several ideological models on their own, including Marxist-Lenin communism, fascism, and radical Islam (which can be seen as an odd mixture of fascism and communism, based on theology).

"Libertarian" would naturally comprise social and economic liberty. Conservatism would embrace social tradition and convention (emphasis on the nuclear family) and economic liberty. Liberalism (“the rope in sand” to the religious Right) would be the opposite. These are obvious over-simplifications, reinforcing political partisanship (counting votes instead of winning arguments). Ideologically, most of us would associate liberty today with some kind of progressivism and reform, an idea that Jesse Ventura tried to emulate when he won the governorship of Minnesota in 1998 for the Reform Party (which then went in wayward directions).

Various writers have proposed other decompositions. Andrew Sullivan, in his book Virtually Normally in the 90s, described social attitudes toward homosexuality in a fashion that parallels political paradigms: prohibitionist, liberationist, conservative, liberal. In The Conservative Soul (2006) he distinguishes fundamentalism, theoconservatism, and conventional conservatism.

One underlying concern is how burdens are to be shared. Liberals tend to stress group remedies, and conservatives tend to emphasize individual socialization through the family and church, with minimal government intervention. But this gets muddied when you talk about marriage. In Chapter 5 of The Manifesto, I suggested a kind of covenant marriage that could allow same-sex marriage. (That would include one per lifetime, elimination of no-fault divorce, and benefits to kick in only when there is at least one child or dependent elder relative.) It sounds moralistic, all right. Is it conservative or liberal? It is both. It does not sound libertarian, which would want to reduce marriage to a private contract, with the sacramental meaning left to voluntary religious expressive associations. (Remember the editorial “Licensed Expired” in GLIL’s newsletter in 1996?) In fact, part of me wishes we could adopt the literal “deconstruction” of marriage that pure libertarianism would recommend. I wish we could to that to the income tax (replacing it with nothing) and the military (then so much for “don’t ask don’t tell”). I wish we weren’t in Iraq, and I wish there were no Al Qaeda. I think it is useful to talk about progressive solutions that stress personal responsibility, taking the responsibility concept quite far into objectivistic territory, and that sometimes itself can lead to scary conclusions. Other areas where libertarianism has to settle some of its own internal debates includes campaign finance reform (or term limits) and even all the "right to life" issues.

My first DADT book title uses the words “conservative” (I call myself a “gay conservative”) and later libertarian. Perhaps, literally, I am neither. I am wandering somewhere inside the Nolan Chart or in my Triangle, with uncertain position, like one of Heisenberg’s or Bohr’s quantum particles.

Picture: James Madison's home, Montpelier, near Charlottesville, VA

Friday, January 05, 2007

Becoming an e-commerce reviewer

There are, as the old proverb says, “many roads to Rome.” Blogs, personal websites, and social networking site profiles have become controversial during the past year as a way to become “famous”.

If you go into Amazon.com or imdb.com (or movies.com and some other sites), you will often find, for many books and movies, many reviews. Many of them are detailed, original, and well-written. On these sites, one can click on the reviewer and find all of the person’s reviews, selected and grouped conveniently in relational fashion.

Books and movies get “grades” (A through F, or a number of stars) from reviewers, that are averaged onto a “report card.”

Do movie studio executives read these reviews and take what customers say on them seriously? I hope that they do sometimes. We all know, of course, how much of conventional media and publishing is a numbers-driven and bottom line business when public companies are involved. But one would hope that the well-conceived customer comments about a film like “Blood Diamond,” or “An Inconvenient Truth” would influence studio and hedge fund investors about what projects they would support in the future.

Peer reviews (including the average scores) can also impose some “market driven” discipline on the quality of products (especially self-published books, music, and now, sometimes, DVDs) that newbies offer themselves to the open market. One problem with many of the reviews, however, is that they often deal with only part of a particular work, when the reviewer is disturbed by the attitude of the author or artist. You need a number of independent reviews. In a sense, the same idea can exist with blogs themselves when they try to sell advertising: how many legitimate clicks and purchases can they persuade the visitors to make?

Some media companies (one of the best known is CWTV, previously TheWB) offer message boards to discuss all of their shows. The quality of the postings on these boards tends to be superficial, with many visitors making silly remarks about the stars or characters. These are less likely to give executives an idea of what customers really want (beyond what they can tell from the ratings).

So far, I have posted my reviews on my own website (doaskdotell.com). I can correlate the movies, books and plays into logical groupings that in turn add to the value of the content. I have some “combinatorial” reviews on the blogs, along with specialized news items about these media. The e-commerce sites would group all of my reviews together into one object on any site. Nevertheless, these sites offer advantages, such as the ability to score, and get more comments on the reviews. The sites also let readers score whether the reviews themselves are useful. The reader scoring provides a secondary market mechanism to "discipline" reviewers.

Another issue is moderation. Sometimes reviews cannot be posted until they have been screened for offensive or inappropriate content. One issue is that in some reviews, I do like to bring a personal perspective that I think is valuable, but that wouldn’t be as appropriate on an e-commerce site. Also, I get my own statistics, and I can see from Urchin reports what search arguments cause my reviews to be found. I can tell that there are quirky subjects (often involving body image) that concern many visitors.

E-commerce sites would appear to allow reviewers to use pseudonyms (but then again, so can bloggers). In general, reviewers can closely restrict how much personal identifying information that they put in a public space. (I am not aware that they can whitelist the reviews from e-commerce sites, as that would defeat the business model for e-commerce.) The e-commerce reviewer setup would appear, in a practical sense, to outflank many of the over-exposure problems that employers (and even families) worry about with job applicants and students using social networking profiles and blogs. This is an opportunity that I might consider carefully in my own future employment situations.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

DADT: I Have a Screed

I Have a Manifesto!

Well, it’s nice to know that in the eyes of one reviewer I have something in tangentially in common with (“liberal”) Democratic presidential primary candidate Howard Dean in 2004, after he lost. Remember his “I have a scream”! Of course, I wouldn’t run for partisan office in the first place. (Correction: I actually entertained running in Minnesota for US Senate as the Libertarian Party candidate in 2000, but that died quickly.) Maybe what I have is a caterwaul.

Of course, the title of this blog refers to my first book (Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back), first self-published in July 1997, which I boastfully called “The Manifesto” (a practical synonym for the uncomplimentary word above). Yes, I do have an attitude about it. In fact, friends and coworkers called it The Manifesto for a few years.

First, this book is almost ten years old now. All non-fiction books that offer big time analysis and make major recommendations on public policy tend to become obsolete, or at least problematic, with time. Furthermore, they have the problem of hitting moving targets. Perceptions of these issues change in the years since publication. Typically, in many cases, sales slow down significantly after a couple of years.

Non-fiction tomes are often authored (sometimes ghost written) by celebrities (or ex-celebrities). It is true that there is a formal and competitive professionalism (and due diligence, assuming no easy entry) in the way these books are edited (professionally, by well paid people) and produced; the results nonetheless are far from perfect. Sometimes they are analytical and offer “what to do about this problem” arguments. Usually, when these books come from major trade publishers, their political stances tend to be one-sided. Other books (especially many by closeted gay celebrities) are in the format of memoirs, linear non-fiction stories that have the natural logic of well-conceived novels. They actually have “plots.” Reviewers tend to like memoirs that are shorter and that offer less in “solve the world’s problems” fixes. Bill Clinton’s “My Life” is indeed a big exception.

My book is unusual compared with all of these. I was not a celebrity (maybe I would have become one had I continued piano as a boy – I should have). I mixed personal narrative with somewhat abstract arguments in about equal weights. There is an inherent contradiction: I am arguing for non-partisan objectivity, and yet I must come up with some kind of proposed solution to the issues I take on.

One question that comes up, what have I done or undergone to justify putting myself on center stage for a while? The main answer to that is in the “narrative chapters” 1, 2, and 4. I discuss my explusion from the College of William and Mary as a freshman in 1961 for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean, then go on to relate my reparative “psychiatric” treatment at NIH, and then, ironically, military service, getting myself drafted to redeem myself according to the values of the time. Then, in 1993, a naive President Clinton would try to lift the ban on gays in the military. I would become involved in the debate (at one point descending into a submarine myself), as the events that had occurred in my young adulthood thirty years earlier bore a curious, if ironic parallel. The long Chapter 4 would relate my involvement in the debate and my own analysis of the convoluted legal and constitutional issues of the old policy and then of “don’t ask don’t tell.” But the last point is that all the other social and political issues (leading to the triangulation of liberal, conservative, and libertarian approaches) all relate back to some of the arcane points that come up in analyzing DADT. That was to become my contribution.

I started the book in the autumn of 1994, and had written these three narrative chapters by the early spring of 1995. At the time, Chapter 4 was Chapter 3. I experimented with various organizations and came up with a two-part scheme, where the three narrative chapters would be followed by four analytical essays or “epistles.” (I whimsically thought of this as like a sonata followed by a theme and variations, as in Beethoven’s last piano sonata.) The material build up over the military ban in layers of encapsulation.

As an aside, I even recall an assignment in sophomore English in college (at George Washington University), where we had to hand in an “annotated bibliography” of the term paper we would do later in the semester. Nobody understood the point of this assignment at first. The professor was trying to teach twenty year olds the idea of abstraction – journalistic or research objectivity, to be sure – but also to look at one’s work from a distance, rather than from inside the topic (which could be anything reasonable of the student’s choosing).

I submitted the book to an agent in May, 1996, got considerable detailed feedback, and restructured the book into its current format. I made the DADT chapter the fourth, and inserted a narrative chapter about the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the AIDS crisis. The last two chapters had relative little narrative and were mostly analysis and “conclusions.” After some discussion, I self-published in July 1997. I did hire a proofreader. I did make a lot of later changes, especially in the last two chapters, as many news events broke out in early 1997 (again, hitting a moving target), such as the airing of the CDA (Communications Decency Act) before the Supreme Court.

Because I knew that these issues would evolve quickly, I developed a website to keep adding or modifying the footnotes. I also allowed the user to browse and search the text online. The footnote files can be accessed in a self-explanatory manner from this link. These help answer the criticisms that the material becomes misleading or dated.

In 1998, I would author a short supplement called “Our Fundamental Rights”, and that condenses much of the DADT material into less than 100 pages (no longer a screed).

In 2000, I would run out of my first printing of DADT and would place it with a print-on-demand cooperative publisher.

In 2002 I wrote another collection of essays called “Do Ask Do Tell: When Liberty Is Stressed,” to deal in large part with the issues raised by 9/11 and the emerging free speech debates (such as COPA, the Child Online Protection Act).

Now, as to the “incoherence” of my position. I am supposedly neither a conservative, libertarian, or liberal. Maybe that is good. Just say, independent. Labels don’t matter. But let me digest the “manifesto” to a homily. The liberal element does come with a concern about social justice, inequality, and unequal burdens, and ominous concerns about the environment. The conservative element comes from recognizing that freedom cannot be taken for granted, and that burdens have to be shared at a personal level rather than just by bartering among groups. The libertarian part comes from limiting government, and encouraging market or private solutions, since government solutions are often easily corrupted for the benefit of one interest. It is a precarious balance. One can go down paths of thought (especially dealing with “meritocracy” and “moral hazard”) that lead potentially to scary conclusions in certain circumstances.

Then we come back to my “attitude” and technique for presenting all of this. It is true, before the William and Mary narrative I do start with an introduction that is somewhat deliberately egotistical. (Just look at the title). I set out my own “objectivistic” view of gay rights as logically predicated on hyper-individualism and absolute personal responsibility (an ideal impossible to attain, perhaps). I characterize homophobia as predicated on the perception that gays are deliberately evading the family responsibility that would come from competing according to the norms of gender roles. (It’s more subtle than that.) And at the end of the Introduction I am a bit “in the face” about refusing to play ball with other interests and show “solidarity.” Obviously, some people see this as an affront or a threat to turf. The visitor can look at the last paragraph online now.

The novel-like part of the narrative starts then with the first chapter, and that should establish my personal standing. It is true that in places, I like to encapsulate various principles with metaphors that strike some people as bizarre or as gratuitous (particularly when dealing with emotional issues, where persons more directly affected than I am are vulnerable to offense). And in a few spots, I may have stretched the limits of grammar, English, at least, with my invention of new idioms. (Sometimes it may be easier to do this in, say, French.) True, one doesn’t do this in formal academic writing. And I suspect that the military ban and issues over gay marriage and gay custody are generating a lot of formal academic dissertations (as in law, political science or sociology) today. I hope so. (In the 1970s, a workplace friend often spoke of "inevitable epigrams" and invented the proverb, "Verbosity promulgates egregious epigrammatization.")

A good question is, if I started over today, what would the conclusion be? The huge “Right to the Pursuit of Happyness (sic) Amendment”? Of course, a lot has happened since the 90s, including Lawrence v. Texas and attempts to misuse the amending process to stop gay marriage. I understand that if you pick that up now, it doesn’t read right. In 1999, I posted a “Bill of Rights 2” proposal that is in my second book. I plan to take this question (about the Bill of Rights and constitutional amendments) in more detail in a later blog entry. I also plan to state the direction that I think that all of this leads, given the circumstances now, a decade later. Yes, I need to offer a new payoff!

Another major point about the moving target comes up when I go back to the military gay ban itself. In 1993, I had thought that some sort of "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" (as Clinton called it) could be workable, as I was still in the days where the mindset was reasonable protection of personal life privacy (of everyone, gay or not), even for members of the armed forces. (This followed the paradigm of gay activism in decades before, with the emphasis on privacy.) The Internet age has turned this perception around. Now openness and equality are much more compelling in this age of personal sites and search engines. The implications of this, even for the ban, must become the subject of much more discussion.

One idea of greatest importance to me is, covering everything, maintaining objectivity and some emotional distance when reading the material. It's true, people often write "adversarially" to meet the interests or needs (from a social justice viewpoint) of one particular party or group. I am trying to to keep all viewpoints in sight at all times.

I do think that, even given the aging of the arguments, the book represents a valuable "street sense" view of social history from the past few decades, from the Eisenhower years on to the end of the 20th Century. One does not need to be a public celebrity to impact history. Relativity matter here: merely by being there and observing, I am changing things. So I do intend to keep it available.

I have some other detailed comments on the reader's page on my domain, this link.

Here are two lists from amazon on books by or on gay conservatives:

List 1


Add to this Bruce Bawer's "While Europe Slept" which is a great example of social and political "journalism" by presence and observation over several years, review here.

Update:  September 29, 2017

The second review (less favorable) has disappeared from Amazon.  Maybe the user no longer has an account, don't know why. 

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Whitelist: a new concept in self-publishing, with a disturbing concern underneath

Tara Bahrampour has a story in The Washington Post, Jan. 2, 2006, Metro, "'Dear Diary' becomes 'Dear World': Teenagers use sites to vent, communicate.” The link is this.

A related story occurred just a couple days earlier more recent story is by Martha Irvine, "Some Rethink Posting Private Info," The Washington Post, Dec. 29, 2006, from the AP, at this link. At least one person working for a public relations firm removed references to that firm, but I have long thought that personal sites (outside of resumes) should not name specific employers (easily searched by engines).

These stories bring up some random and bemusing points. People have always kept diaries, and even when handwritten and private, they could cause ruckuses when discovered accidentally by others (as in a couple of recent episodes of the bizarre NBC soap “Days of our Lives”). Sometimes whole novels are constructed out of diaries and letters. In high school English classes, teachers often have students make handwritten journals into notebooks as an exercise in learning to write. Teachers check these, and these are supposed to be private. (One high school English teacher in northern Virginia carried this on as a blogging experiment, to the worry of school administrators., and logged her experience with a column in the free DC Examiner.) I actually have a diary, in cryptic language, of some of my dreams. That stays private and never gets published (maybe some day in the movies). Even private diaries could be used as evidence by police in investigations (as when personal computers are seized under warrant).

I seem to be balancing off self-expression and openness with paranoia. Perhaps. But it is interesting that now the new Blogger offers the ability to restrict read-access to a whitelist of email addresses, and that social networking sites have been offering subscribers the ability to tighten access and encourage subscribers to use these. Facebook, in fact, was conceived as used only within the school and college community – but that has not deterred some employers from wanting to see profiles. Myspace has been encouraging younger minor subscribers to keep accounts restricted.

Elsewhere, I have talked about the global reach of self-journaling (the link is in yesterday’s post on this blog). The interest of self-publishing companies in offering access whitelist restriction certainly suggests that in the future, employers and families of individuals might demand that individuals take advantage of these features. The insinuation is that access to the entire planetary stage is a privilege to be earned by some kind of social competition, not a fundamental right. There are various implications, of turf-protection, of a “pay your dues” moral philosophy. There are ideas that one should “keep a low profile” to protect himself and others around himself, especially other family members. There are ideas that one need not be proud of oneself in such a public manner. In today’s tense world, such pride has become dangerous.

All of these notions have their place, and indeed the responsibilities of many jobs do require limiting one’s own public self-projection outside the workplace. A particularly disturbing and extreme example of where this can wind up is the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” idea for gays in the military, a philosophy and mechanism that is all too easy to replicate into other areas.

But we seem to wander back to a lynchpin in the cultural war. Isn’t one’s source of pride supposed to be family and one’s own immediate circle? Isn’t that necessary because we cannot control the dangerous exogenous intrusions from the world?

That seems to be a postulatory question of how we want to look at things.

Personally, I would like to stay on the side of public pride in myself (the idea that I deserve no more than a "low profile" because I am homosexual is personally insulting), but there have been serious challenges lately. I have no plans to whitelist right now, but I cannot guarantee what could be necessary in the future. That is one reason why it is important to stay tuned to what is going on, and why I am trying to help people stay awake.

Picture: Layout of St. Mary's City, Maryland, one of the earliest colonies.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The New Year starts with El Nino, or is it global warming?

First, a note about 2007. I expect to see a lot more along the lines of the issues over personal publicity that I have developed in recent posts. I did a major posting on another blog about "chutzpah" on New Year's Eve, here.

I appreciate all comments made in good faith. I haven't been moderating them, and I have been allowing anonymous comments. I don't censor any ideas. A few times, however, I have detected computer-generated comments that appear to be nothing more than ads for inappropriate products, and these ads I will feel free to remove without notice. Legitimate comments are supposed to result in email notification to me.

"December days" (that was the name of a chapter in a childhood scrapbook in grade school) were mild on the East Coast, after the first week, and the pattern continues into January. Cherry blossoms are appearing around the Tidal Basin in Washington. That is not good. The weather during Christmas was more appropriate for northern Florida (it actually has snowed at Disney World) than the mid Atlantic states. This is attributed to El Nino, which seems to drag the jet stream down in the western states, send the storms up the Ohio Valley and bring in warm southerly winds on the warm side of the storms. The tendency over the past ten years seems to be bigger rain events and less frequent snows, although when they come they can be enormous (as in 2003). I spent 1997-2003 in Minnesota, and for the most part the winter weather was no where near its reputation. The coldest it got in Minneapolis during that period was while I was in the hospital and worred about my antifreeze, on January 13, 1998, when it dipped to -23 F. Most of the time it did not get below zero, and there were many mild days in the winter even there. The biggest snow was around Feb. 24, 2001, when to the west, Watertown SD got 32 inches.

I recall only two winters in the DC area with no measurable snow: 1973-74, and 1997-98. But this year has a real chance, despite the early forecasts. Maybe the Big Apple can get through this winter for the first time with no snow.

Global warming, however, is the undeniable inconvenient truth.

Picture: B&O Museum in Baltimore, in the rain (March 2005).