Monday, March 31, 2008

Former "Democrat" Mike Gravel becomes a "Libertarian": happy memories of Jesse Ventura's era

In the past few days, there has been a pit of an edgy political surprise, when former Democratic presidential candidate and Senator from Alaska Maurice Robert Mike Gravel announced his candidacy for president as a Libertarian. He will try to get the party’s nomination in May.

Now there is a lot of ground here. It seems like a big jump. Libertarianism has always meant strange bedfellows, the simultaneous advocacy of ending all “vice” or “victimless crime” laws while at the same time promoting private religious choice, such as home schooling. (It’s more than just that.) Gravel, in his interview with CNN on YouTube, admits he was like the grandpa saying blunt things out loud that other people would only whisper, things that the Democrats didn’t want to hear. He claims that the Democrats are as in bed with Wall Street and big oil as the Republicans, and won’t bring peace to the Middle East. He wants the US out, period.

Gravel’s website is this.

Gravel is, with others, promoting a “National Initiative for Democracy” which would add essentially a “third house” to Congress: the People, through initiative and referendum, although any laws passed by this process would still be subject by judicial review for constitutionality. The presence on the Web is multifaceted. One point of the video is that in practice people vote their control over their lives away today when they vote for elected officials or representatives. Democracy would become partially representative and partially direct. Of course, we know that there can be "majority tyranny" and that it is dangerous to put some issues to referendums.

One site has a 5 minute YouTube video explaining briefly the Democracy Amendment and the Democracy Act. The People are supposed to vote on the National Initiative with a national election conducted by “Philadelphia II”.

There is a lot to explain here, and some of it sounds a bit related to my own “Bill of Rights 2” idea in the late 1990s. I expect to go over it in more detail later. Some of it would invoke questions about the constitutional amending process, as some books by John Vile explored in the 1990s.

The other major website for the National Initiative is Ni4d.

I recall fondly the days with the Libertarian Party: the 1996 convention in Washington (with the break to go see “Independence Day”), the state conventions in Manassas and Richmond with appearance by Harry Browne (I remember “repeal the income tax and replace it with nothing”), and then the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, for six years when I lived in Minneapolis 1997-2003, which helped put me on television with my first book. I even remember the spring conventions at Mystic Lake, with no card counting allowed.

Update: April 1

Jesse Ventura (former Reform Party governor of Minnesota) will be on Larry King Live tonight April 1. Will he run for president, too? Link.

For the show, he gave a lively interview. He suggested that the Democrats and Republicans run a "kingdom" with the Bush's and Clinton's as royal families. He proposed that every presidential election ballot say "none of the above." He also indicated that the could not run for president without ballot access. This reminds me of the emphasis that the Libertarian Party (not the same as Reform) on ballot access petitioning ("laugh a little, cry a little") in 1998, when I lived there and participated. Women and teenagers seemed to be particularly good at this (it took some tailgating), at county fairs, small town parades, and block parties, as on Hennepin Ave., and at minor league baseball games (in St. Paul, which had an outdoor stadium, overshadowed by the Metrodome). Petitioning would go on at Gay Pride in Loring Park.

I do remember than Ventura ran on a state income tax-rebate platform, which he honored. A couple of Jesse's books are "Don't Start the Revolution Without Me!" (2008) and "I Ain't Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom up" (2000).

Ventura has spent a lot of time roughing it in Baja, where he wrote the latest book.

Update: April 6

Today, CNN discussed former Congressman Bob Barr's switch to the Libertarian Party in 2006. Here is the interview Barr gave Reason 's David Weigel then, link. Barr may also seek the presidential nomination this year (like Gravel). Note that we have both Democrats and Republicans converting to Libertarian!

Today, I had a phone conversation with a libertarian publisher in California. His concept of libertarianism the simplest possible: "Your freedom implies my freedom." I think Gravel, Ventura and Barr will all echo that. His comment on both the Republicans and Democrats is that they try to figure out intellectual schemes to tell people "how to live." True. What seems to drive this is "need," at least as it is perceived to be related to "karma".

Update: May 27, 2008

Bob Barr was nominated candidate for president of the United States in the Libertarian Party convention in Denver. Here is a typical blog report on his nomination. Mary Ruwart, author of "Healing our World" (both editions, the first in the late 1990s) and entrepreneur from North Carolina, was a strong challenger for the nomination. Rick Sincere's account of the nomination is here.

Update: July 11, 2008

Jesse Ventura made a brief appearance on CNN. The interviewers mentioned that at one time he had called for "term limits for reporters." Does that include blogger journalists?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

So, I say, "what do you want from me?" Ans. "Forced socialization"

So, this time, back to a more personal posting (away from my usual mix of Internet-related technical and legal stories), as I recycle a sensitive topic: “What do you want from me?” What do others expect of me now, given some of the recent “principled” discussions on this blog? What I’ll say is an “executive summarization” of feedback from “family,” from the workplace in certain situations (particularly when I was substitute teaching), and some comments from others about materials on my blogs and sites.

I do find that sometimes, others don't respect my "independence" as an adult at age 64. They believe I owe some sort of emotional loyalty and subordination and submission, beyond the parameters of choice (and immediate responsibility) normally expected in the modern world of "classical liberalism." It's true, as I've noted in the past in blogs, that some things I have said (in conjunction with the military situation and past substitute teaching positions) may have indirectly invited this kind of "disrespect." Perhaps my history is an instantiation of "The Secret." It is frustrating. I am, even in the eyes of the law, a ("professional") "second class citizen." My interests can be pre-empted or even "expropriated" to meet the "needs" of others. I understand what this must have felt like in earlier generations, in other historical contexts (the "N" word, the "F" word, maybe even the "M" word). Sure, that's what "salvation by Grace" insures against? That's why I like the concept of karma, even in a religious context, instead. It does seem a little more "just." True, I came of age in a world with different mores and measures than do young people today, and the same holds for my parents relative to me.

Okay, in short, some people want to see more “empathy” from me. Not sympathy, but “empathy.” They want more respect for their feelings, and more willingness from me to take more responsibility for others and be willing to connect with them. They want receptiveness and response from me to their needs. And, as I have said, that can be problematic because I did not make the same “lifestyle” “choices” (children and marriage) that normally lead to this kind of responsibility. Yet, sometimes I find I am expected to function, as if I were part of a “family”, or act as a role model as if I had once parented my own family or had some other equivalent way of being socialized by family need.

The second concern I sometimes here is, “please keep a low profile” because “you don’t have the responsibilities that others have,” and can't even compete for them (like a "man"). Yes, I can understand. People don’t like to hear me talk about “personal responsibility” and taking subprime mortgages that one will not be able to afford in five years, when one has a large family to house, and I don’t. I get that. "Let the experts (and lobbyists) get us what we want and we'll 'take care' of you." It seems as though merely bringing up certain kinds of controversies is seen by some people as tainting me and tainting others connected to me.

Yes! The blogs, websites and books are about issues, and about the interconnections among issues, as shown by the mass of facts that accumulate about the issues over the years. Intelligence calls this “connecting the dots.” Database systems (like IMS) call this concept “intersection data.” When one looks at the mass of material and considers it as a whole, the effect is to create some alarm. It does seem to some people that I am trying to point out what’s “wrong” with things and not ready to step up and do something at an individual level about it (like go down to New Orleans with a shovel).

I have been able to "indulge" in this partly because of my "retirement." But I do notice that many jobs, especially for seniors, seem to involve manipulating clients to buy some service, or to explain something to them "too complicated to understand." (Maybe preparing income taxes is a good example, or perhaps selling life insurance and annuities.) Many people would like to see me "open" to doing that ("concern 3"). "We give you the words," one interviewer said. (Maybe by acting the role with the words, I could "advance" and "protect my family" -- acting 1s OK when it's "creative", but not here!) But, again, my core values say that individuals in the general public can learn to do this for themselves. (Hey, then, where's the cut for the middleman? Or Thomas Costain's "Moneyman"?)

Let me point out that none of the blogs or sites engage in “gossip.” I am not one of the paparazzi or “gossip girls”. I don’t take cell phone pictures of celebrities in gay bars and out them (enough of them go, to be sure – and I believe that anyone has a right to be seen anywhere in public in any lawful place and not be followed); in fact, I don’t take cell phone pictures of anyone in public places. I don’t spread “rumors” about individual people. Of course , that gets closer to the “reputation defense” problem that has cropped up especially with social networking sites, and the fact that reputations are affected by what other “publish” about anyone online (sometimes identifying the wrong person). There is another mechanism, however, in which sites and blogs like mine can create a problem even when they republish legitimate and properly attribute “true” information already first presented in the “established media” – the information is free and can stay available to searching for years, beyond a time when the material would normally have been forgotten (and been archived away by conventional corporate media sites).

One good question is where I would like to head with this. Yes, I would like to see “knowledge management” make money, and I would like to see a world in which people can gain the understanding of these things on their own, without having to depend on familial or religious hierarchy. But even that aim threatens the “power structures” of some people. I’ve imagined, for example, that my “doaskdotell” would be a good wordmark or trademark as a distributor of controversial, but “legitimate” films, perhaps after carefully packaging them to make them socially mainstream. But if so, to be profitable and meaningful as a new media concept, it would have to be able to take the heat if it wanted to handle something that sparks emotions, as does the recent short film “Fitna”.

But, let’s come back to the topic. Yes, I like to draw attention to the traps hidden (of a “moral hazard” nature) under many of these issues. I like to peak in Pandora’s Box, and risk the baggage of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil Problem”. When I was working in information technology, before my end-2001 “retirement”, I had a “reputation” (that word, again) for being the person who found the obscure problems in a system that everyone else missed but that could come back and bite the company seriously later. So it is with these issues. It’s important that people understand them in detail, and not depend on lobbyists and special interest driven politicians just to get them what they “want” with no intellectual responsibility.

So, here I come to my own trap. I know that when people raise families, many people, at least, they give up a certain amount of “independence” in order to bond as a couple and as a family. They need to accept “help” from others (as in a religious fellowship) and not question everything, in order to be able to function as a family. Because of the kind of life I have led, I find myself unwilling to do that. Libertarian thought and “radical individualism” fit well into my system of thought in the 1990s; and this has been challenged by many developments since 9/11, many of which force someone like me with the very real prospect of forced interdependence and socialization. That's my own gut response (not always valid) to the election of a socially conservative candidate: intrusion on my space and goals to meet the needs of those with "families." The tension between those with families and kids and those without is very real in all kinds of areas, ranging from Internet censorship issues (like COPA) to the allocation of “sacrifice” and mandatory overtime and scheduling (as well as benefits) in the workplace.

Consider how we usually phrase “moral principles.” We understand the moral issues underneath “the Cheating Culture” (as with Callahan’s 2004 book) that extreme capitalism encourages. On a social level, we understand that, when people have children, it’s much better if they are first legally married and able to provide permanent, two-parent families. I don’t think that these assertions on their own are controversial.

The real problem comes with people, like me, who are “different,” as to how we should be expected to compete and “behave.” In short, the real controversy concerns “forced socialization.” That’s the real heart of the matter. When I came of age a few decades ago, people rather understood this without being able to articulate it. The controversies of the past days included the equitable sharing of the risk of military service (the draft deferment controversy of the 60s), and the ability of men to prove they were “competitive” enough to protect women and children and provide for families. Times did change, and that’s partly because technology made other lifestyles possible (if sometimes problematic). Women, quite understandably, asserted their ability to speak for themselves, and this took the pressure off certain kinds of “men” (like me). Diversity became a virtue. Yet, in certain contexts, the expression of social or sexual diversity becomes problematic. (At least it did until a few decades ago, and in many "religious" communities around the world it still does.) It comes across as a desire to evade responsibility for others ("family responsibility"), and sometimes, because of the expression of "upward affiliation," it (particularly male homosexuality) is interpreted as hostility to those who do marry and have kids but encounter problems doing so. Getting the adolescent personality (me!) to "like people as people" is taken as a way to make bloodline and "life-affirming" procreation emotionally compelling for anyone; socialization is seen as a way to get everyone to do his part with emotional transparency. So there is a lot of undercurrent social tension -- between individual initiative, and the need for people to count on one another emotionally, even beyond the usual mechanisms of voluntary choice.

Add to this that external “threats” and demographics is making the ability to provide for others, and even connect with them on some legitimate level, a real moral issue again, even for those of us who are “different.” That idea, and the expectation even in the early 90s that it could surface again (as it did with 9/11 and now global warming and other problems) drove some of the “moral thinking” concerning the debate over gays in the military, and then gay marriage and adoption. It was all about how those who were “different” would participate in shared sacrifice and responsibility. This is where I think the real “moral” debate needs to be, and the politicians won’t bring it up. It’s interesting to me how they talk about health care and social security, but won’t say much about eldercare and long term care, an issue that is approaching a crisis because of medical demographics. Why? Because this issue demands a lot more sacrifice from individuals to address, and no politician can run on it, and no advocacy group can really help people that much with this. We understand the moral outrage at “deadbeat dads” but I wonder if “deadbeat adult children” could surface as a phrase next. It’s inevitable that involuntary filial responsibility has to become an issue again.

Another way to put it is something like this: if someone like me isn't emotionally willing to start my own family, at least I'm going to be held accountable to somebody (parents or blood relatives) before I go "global." What I have to say, the thinking goes, is nothing more than "preaching to the choir" until I have someone who needs to be lifted up by personal interaction with me.

Where does all of this leave me? What I am going to “do about it”? I don’t know. Of course, it is the social and emotional “unit cohesion” of the traditional family unit that is supposed to help people take these responsibilities (even people who have not personally “taken the dive”, including, often, LGBT people). The rise of “radical individualism” has diluted the socializing effect of the traditional family – especially the family’s ability to socialize people, even adults, who live on their own. This is a good thing in terms of meeting discrimination, racism, and inequality – to let people account for themselves “as individuals.” On the other hand, the (traditional, heterosexual) marital relationship will sometimes lose “utility” or “value,” with the inevitable increase in divorce and problems for children – and eventual increase in crime and inability of many people in future generations to “compete” and make a living, and an inability or disinclination to even form new families at all. On a macro level, one set of problems changes into another.

As I’ve noted before, I can imagine a world that accepts both gay marriage but also filial responsibility, and that is much more energetic in expecting certain kinds of connective performance from everyone, harking back to the expectations of people decades about during those “greatest generations”. Freedom “is not free.” Whether that would be good is hard to say, because we really could wind up with less spontaneity and less individual freedom, even less artistic expression. But it’s a debate we need to have.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Family court judges can interfere with free speech

On January 11, 2008 on this blog, I discussed the Vermont divorce case Garrido v. Krasnansky, particularly with respect to the issue of a blog, apparently about the failing marriage, that purported to be “fiction.” As I said, there is relatively little law in the area of fiction too closely resembling real life, outside of California and perhaps New York. But the issue is of great concern to the publishing industry, and it actually got me into trouble when I was working as a substitute teacher (using myself as the “mark”) as I wrote on this blog on July 27, 2007. (Look at the blog archive links.)

Info Law has a blog entry on this case from Jan 18, 2008 “Failed Marriages, Ugly Dogs, Copyright, and Free Speech,” link here.

Here, the attorneys are concerned about the apparently awesome powers of family law judges to quash speech, at least during a divorce or custody proceeding, or when the children of a family may be harmed by unwanted publicity. They discuss how the Vermont judge’s restraining order could run into several problems holding up under the scrutiny levels normally offered by the First Amendment in constitutional law. However, family court judges may believe that they have an enormous responsibility to protect children or others in a family.

I can imagine how this kind of problem could go even further. In some subcultures in our society (especially religious ones), a person’s discussing his homosexuality online could be seen as an “insult” to his parents’ marriage, to his respect for his own “blood” and injurious to other family members. In a gay-related divorce case (where a gay person in a heterosexual marriage wants a divorce and there are children involved) could a judge (or mediator) reasonably tell a person “don’t tell” online? I wonder.

Note: I have a Wordpress blog entry on the "implicit content" problem and "fiction" here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BlogTalkRadio as a Citizens Broadcast Network

I remember those great talk radio shows in the 90s as I drove around the DC area, during the time I was working on “The Book.” Rush Limbaugh, to be sure. Or Joe Palka, the liberal who was suspicious of libertarianism when I called in in October 1996. Or Dr. Laura Schlessinger (remember her), who in those days used to introduce herself with “I am my kids’ mom.” Or Victoria Jones, “the British Lady” who would field questions on O.J. and was quick to bounce abusive callers. Remember Oliver North, who could sound self-righteous (he doesn't "ask"). Or the younger Scott Peck ("All American Boy"), accidentally involved in the 1993 debate that would lead to "don't ask don't tell" when his Marine Corps father mentioned him in Senate hearings (yes, he had a show for ten months). I remember the great financial talk shows in the 80s when living in Dallas.

Now there is a way for anyone to become a talk show host. The news story is by Howard Kurtz, in the March 24, 2008 Washington Post, p. C1 Style, “Media Notes: With BlogTalkRadio, the commentary universe expands,” link here. The site is, of course, BlogTalkRadio and I just visited it and set up an account. It calls itself a "Citizens Broadcast Network." You can try it and find some live broadcasts going on. There is a banner “come vote for BlogTalkRadio as your favorite Web 2.0 audio site!” The site invites small businesses to use it for advertising: “Broadcast your brand” – the last word of which invites seriousness about sales, as well as conveying social or political opinions.

BlogTalkRadio's own blog acknowledges the post story here. There is another entry about an appearance by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, here.

According to the newspaper story, the site is free. The wanna-be talk show host creates a link on his site or blog. After registering as a user, he or she logs on to the site, indicates the show time, and then uses and ordinary landline phone and calls a particular number. The site will display the guests (also logged onto the site, in broadband or wireless) who have called in.

I’ll put looking further into this on my own to-do list. “Self-publishing” is taken to new levels with “self-broadcast.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

U.S. Customs bars British author entry for "moral turpitude" -- based on his confessional writings?

Should the United States Customs and Border Protection bar entry to an author from another western country (Britain in this case) for what the author "confesses" to in an "autobiography"? Such is the case of Sebastian Horsley with his 2008 book from Harper Perennial, "Dandy in the Underworld: An Unauthorized Autobiography" (Amazon link here). The news story in The Washington Post, March 24, 2008, Style Section, page C1, by Keith Sullivan (Washington Post foreign service) is "At the Border, No Tip of The Hat for This Dandy
U.S. Officials Cite 'Moral Turpitude' in Barring British Author", link here.

The autobiography does portray a lot of sex and drug use, and the author claims to have recovered from drugs. But the most harrowing incident is the "crucifixion" in 2000 in the Philippines.

Horsley was denied the privilege of using his visa-free entry from Britain. He must go through a specific application with the State Department.

This incident reminds me of earlier issues with blogging and "fiction" (including some of my own) that seems too close to "reality" or at least a "desired reality" and which, to authorities or employers (or school districts or perhaps the military) indicates a "propensity" to engage in future conduct that might be prohibited or dangerous. It's not clear here that the "autobiography" or "memoir" is literally true.

It's not clear why Horsley wasn't barred before, even since 9/11. His lawyer says "Sebastian's life is art ...and "art is meant to be provocative."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday: Early this Year

I recall a number of years when I lived in Dallas getting up around 5 AM on Easter Sunday morning to head for Easter Sunrise service in Lee Park, for MCC. Later that afternoon, the Dallas Symphony would always have a free outdoor concert in that same Lee Park on Turtle Creek.

I recall those childhood religious texts, and stories, like “honoring Jesus at Easter.” It did not occur to me for a while to question why the date changed every year, according to the first full moon after the vernal Equinox. Then, it did not make sense that a celebration so rooted in pure faith should depend on a lunar cycle. The Resurrection should have occurred on a known date, right?

March has always sounded too early for Easter, although the azaleas along Turtle Creek were in full bloom then. April seems like the appropriate time. How about the first Sunday in April, every year? The Fat Tuesday would always fall in mid February. I like putting daylight savings time back to the first Sunday in April, too. If you're going to get up early, then just get up early. Or have the service at 7 AM (about the right time for sunrise).

I remember a great sermon by David Day at MCC Dallas (when it was on Reagan Street) in the early 80s, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is Coming.” I remember his “E.T. Phone Home” and his sermon about the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

And I remember attending a Rosicrucian Feast in a hotel in New York City on the vernal equinox, a drizzly Sunday in 1977, I believe.

I noted Will O’Bryan’s commentary on p 20 of the Metro Weekly this week, the March 20 issue, link here. He discusses the hypocrisy inherent in the Eliot Spitzer bust, and questions how religious moral standards, which are supposed to have something to do with level playing fields in deeper levels of social activity, perhaps, have led to such illogical contradictions. He comes back to the simple, secular libertarian position. He writes: “What I do know is that that there is no sound argument for denying a person the right to his or her body as he or she sees fit.” Later he concludes, “We live in an exploitative world, where the strong prey upon the weak … Telling people that they are not allowed to use one of their assets at their disposal to get ahead seems unfair. To borrow a line from the pro-choice fight, “’Get your laws off my body.’” Great conclusion. I would have use the adjective “competitive” rather than “exploitative.” Is there some moral contradiction in accepting the fact that in a free society, some people take advantage of the “weaknesses” of others? Look at the subprime crisis.

This Easter Sunday, the music that plays through my mind is the blazing, somewhat self-indulgent E Major conclusion of Franz Liszt’s oratorio “Christus” – following the crunching “March of the Wise Men.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Juicy Campus" case in NJ tests telecommunications downstream liability immunity; Facebook profiles lifted; more reputation issues

The website “Juicy Campus” is stirring a controversy. Apparently the site has been the repository of a lot of “gossip girl” kind of stuff. Chris Francescani and Ashley Phillips of the ABC News Law and Justice Unit have a story “Gossip Gone Wild: How Far Is Too Far When It Comes to Anonymous Dirt Dishing?” link here.

Normally, the site would be protected by Section 230 of the 1996 “Communications Decency Act.” This portion was not affected by the 1997 ruling striking it down, and holds that webhosts are normally not liable for what posters say. However, the state of New Jersey is trying to get around this with civil action based on the state’s consumer fraud laws (link); because the site claimed it would police unacceptable or libelous content. Generally, it’s unwise to promise monitoring and then not do it. EFF’s link on Section 230 is here. The actual US Code link (at Cornell) is here.

Also, the front page of the March 20 Washington Times has a story by Harrison Keely, “Facebook photos gone wild: Web sites lift images of ‘hottest girls’” The link is here.
Facebook profiles are normally “whitelisted” with automatic exclusion to some defining community. Normally, it would seem to violate copyright laws and torts of right of publicity to post another’s photo on a public website. There might be exceptions with “legitimate news reporting” but that concept has become controversial in the age of blogger journalism. Legally, this sounds like an interesting case.

All of this certainly bears on the question of "online reputation" and how easily it is affected by the actions of others.

Update: March 29

Debra J. Saunders has an op-ed in The Washington Times today, "A Web that Deceives," p A11, link here. She maintains that "JuicyCampus" (often spelled as one word) is engaging in "doubletalk" in maintaining a First Amendment right to post "disinformation" and then claim that it is a joke or parody. She is also critical of the freehand that kids have been given in posting personal information on social networking sites.

Update: May 15

ABC 20/20 ran a brief report on the controversy over JuicyCampus and briefly interviewed Michael Fertik from Reputation Defender. The story is called "
College Gossip Crackdown: Chelsea Gorman Speaks Out: Juicy Campus' Cruel Online Postings Prompt Government Investigation," story by Eamon McNiff and Ann Varney, link here. The story referred to the investigation in New Jersey for "consumer fraud" and in some other states. Fertik mentioned the issue created by Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommuncations Act.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Politicians are unwilling to recognize the real nature of our moral debates

There are several “world out of balance”-type observations that I would like to make today, about the way we perceive social changes that have been going on.

First, let’s start an Observation Zero. That is to say, our western culture has gradually embraced “radical individualism” in the past two decades or so, along with its logical consequences. Despite all the hoopla about marriage, most of our legal system deals with justice for the individual. What we do then, is pounce on people who make certain unacceptable transgressions, and this tendency has been particularly noticeable with crimes committed on the Internet.

Okay, Observation One has to do with the fact that generally, we emphasize the fact that when a man and woman create a baby, they create responsibility for themselves. We’d like them to be legally married first, and stay that way.

But focus on that paradigm somewhat misrepresents what really happens. People have responsibility for each other, even as adults and for other adults, without procreating or even engaging in sexual intercourse. The recent demographic changes with seniors living longer, along with fewer children born in upper middle classes, is bringing about this reality with eldercare. Some states may soon be tempted to start enforcing their “filial responsibility laws” or “poor laws.” Furthermore, as the movies constantly show us, it’s not uncommon for adults to be expected to take care of siblings or siblings’ children. The media has been repeatedly reporting on the need for adoptive and foster parents. Now, taking over the care for someone else against one’s choice can be a very life-altering event, forcing a change in one’s own goals and personal priorities. Yet, we don’t seem to be discussing this as a “moral” problem.

Technological and demographic trends drive this problem. One is that medicine can people alive much longer, but not always keep them vigorous or able to work. The economy has difficulty dealing with the idea of much older people working longer. Trends that could relieve the problems would include lifestyle changes and medical advances that postpone aging and maintain vigor as well as actual length of life.

The paradox is that sometimes a person could be “better off” when he did marry and have children, and has learned to manage a human infrastructure and obtain its help in carrying out these involuntary responsibilities. Perhaps the paradigm relating sex to personal responsibility really is stated backward. In any case, someone without his own children can find himself expected to act as a "competitive role model" for the next generation anyway, and affects what he may reasonably do in public, regardless of his own values.

Politicians discuss the health care universal coverage all the time (Hillary: "health care is a right, not a privilege"), but so far have paid little attention to demographics and long term care. But all of this fits into an overriding concern of reverence for human life.

Observation Two: In the past fifteen years or so, we’ve given almost any person with no significant capital or competitive accountability the capability of becoming a global celebrity on the Internet. I know, “I should talk,” I’ve taken advantage of this. Of course, we are talking about the Internet and the amazing effectiveness of search engines. The most “interesting” problem now with this is “reputation defense” which the media has suddenly discovered as an issue in conjunction with social networking sites, even though the problem has been developing for at least ten years.

In the world of formal journalism and book publishing, facts and media perils are vetted before the material is released “into the wild” of all of our societies on this planet. However, the same practice does not apply to “amateur” publishing on the Internet.

Make no doubt about it, there are great things about the new free publishing means. One is the democratization of debate. It is very real to me that I don’t have to bow down to an organization or lobbyist to speak for me (or for others who may depend on me – observation above); I don’t have to yield to “special interests” or present myself and family as “victims”; I take considerable pride in this newfound capability.

One measure that seems essential is to provide education and training to teenagers before turning them loose on the Internet. The logical place to do this is, for better or worse, the public schools. Students should be taught about copyright and libel, as well as about the security and “reputation” issues with Internet use. This will actually mean revision of school curricula (on top of all the concern with the basics of NCLB), and currently many teachers and administrators don’t have a grip themselves on the content, which used to belong in law school.

Furthermore, there is a “cultural” problem with the idea that, since individual “amateurs” don’t have deep pockets, speakers are not held accountable for the effects of what they say on others. Actually, most ISPs have “indemnification” policies but they are rarely invoked, partly because the legal system has protected telecommunications companies and sometimes individual publishers from “downstream liability.” It’s a good thing that it does, because otherwise much of the expressive activity on the Internet as we know it could not take place any longer.

However, there could develop a cultural trend to expect speakers to be more accountable, in terms of showing profitability and results, and accountability to other people. It’s possible that over time market forces (in conjunction with the network neutrality debate), more than legislation and court opinions, could start enforcing this.

Observation Three: Environmental changes and external problems could force us to become more interdependent again. The biggest concerns from global warming, pandemics, and terror. Of course, there are debates about the legitimacy of these issues. One possibility is that individuals will be held more accountable for their own “carbon footprints” and that the kind of life an introverted person like me had in “self-date” mode will, while psychologically satisfying and “free” sometimes, no longer be feasible. Part of the controversy remains in just how well “clean productivity” will work. Will our economy be able to change to solar and wind power, or find efficient ways to produce a transportation infrastructure based on cleaner power? Yet I’m impressed by all the presentations on “going green” or “green living” as on Oprah, how labor-intensive they can be now, and how they can demand more social and familial cooperation than some people are likely to share. A similar observation would apply to the disruption that a pandemic could cause, from demands for “volunteer” caregiving by the already recovered, to changed from individualist-oriented norms of workplace behavior (“presenteeism”).

Conclusion: We have developed a society where many people perceive an individualistic “meritocracy,” and where there is a certain preoccupation with “just” outcomes. That concern gets played out in many areas, and contributes to many people’s feeling that they are “left out,” and leads to indignation that may contribute to crime and terror. Religious faith, as we know, usually takes a more collective view of “justice” (as in a previous post where I distinguished what is “right” from what is “just”), particularly with the Christian notion of grace. Moral systems (such as the Vatican teachings, recently extended) have a lot to do with getting people to participate in long term “collective” obligations toward one another, often outside of the way the legal system is set up to work. The idea of “second class citizen” (now often heard in conjunction with the gay marriage debate, which is somewhat tangential to my “Observation One”) comes up in our demand for individual justice.

But it does seem that one of our biggest ethical problems is that we do not share risks and social obligations equitably. I've tried to posit these problems in "pay your dues" or "brother's keeper" paradigms. I came of age at a time when this was a particular moral preoccupation, as expressed in the Vietnam era debate over the military draft and student deferments (a debate that had to rationalize why one young man was less "expendable" than another, and why men were more fungible than women; a debate that has come back today in conjunction with the Iraq “stop-loss” backdoor draft debate and even the military gay ban). Yet, our political candidates seem unwilling to cast the debates in these terms. I don’t wonder why.

Monday, March 17, 2008

An object-oriented paradigm for "online reputation"

So, again, what about free speech and employment. Yup, we said that doesn’t quite exist in the private employer world – hum – but that sidesteps another question.

We’re used to think about published (Internet) content itself as being legal or not, appropriate or not. But think of the “object oriented world.” Think of an object as an instance of a class and its methods. That is, think of the “object” as an “event” where an item of speech is, not so much “published” as “delivered.” Then the event becomes an instance of personal “conduct.” All of this terminology, of course, reminds one of the notorious “don’t ask don’t tell” --- complicated by the fact that speech can convey a “propensity” to engage in some future conduct that is unacceptable for a particular environment (but maybe acceptable in others).

We’re used to the concept of within-workplace conduct, having to do with epithets, hostility (or hostile workplace), trade secrets, confidentiality, and even sexual harassment. Companies can directly regulated conduct on computer hardware and infrastructure that they “own.” Conduct carried out in public spaces (accessible to search engines) is an “extension” (again, object-oriented parlance) of this “class” of regulated behavior.

Does that mean that any statement made on a social networking profile or personal blog should be viewed as having been made “at work” because others can find it? Not always, and indeed looking at it this way would break the classic separation between work and personal life, which grew after the Civil Rights movement of the 60s and now is challenged in a paradoxical way by the Internet.

Some of this sounds like common sense: it should depend on what job you have. If your job is to speak for your company in public, if you make decisions about individual clients or grade students, if your clients will actually know you by name and know who you are by identity, then there is much more concern. Not all jobs require that. That’s why this should be a major issue for the human resources world to work out.

But in some jobs, it is essential that a professional associate retain the public confidence of his or her clients (or, sometimes, students). A comment or portrayal about some controversial matter by that person may undermine confidence in the person even when the content itself is legitimate or would be all right coming from a regular media source through regular channels. To some extent, that’s why we do have political advocacy organizations, lobbyist, special interests, and a tendency to expect politicians to respond to mass sentiment (in terms of recognizable “classes” (again!) of constituents), as unsatisfying as this is intellectually sometimes and as short as it can fall in terms of justice as individualism would expect. We do have an adversarial system, whether we like it or not, and many people depend on it. Can trial lawyers (or prosecutors – I have a couple of friends who are prosecutors and have to deal with this) give their own personal opinions about things in public?

But it’s time to stop feeding the nebulous idea of “reputation defense” and start development best practices to deal with this 21st Century issue. Otherwise the Internet will sink back into the world of social conformity.

Picture: The Noisy jays at the National Zoo.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Readers Digest has another story on workplace online reputation defense

The April, 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest has, on p. 155, an article by Andy Simmons, “How to Click and Clean: If you’re on Myspace or Facebook, so is your potential boss. Time to make some changes?” I could not get the article to come up in a free link, so the visitor may have to subscribe or purchase a newsstand copy, or it may turn up soon.

One blogger has already made some detailed comments, here.

I see that I had written about a previous RD article Oct. 29, here.
The link to the older story by Kim Zetter “Is Your Boss Spying on Your” is available, here.

Having introduced the article and recapped some of RD’s earlier coverage of this problem, my first reaction is, ugh! Not another story on “reputation defense” and the workplace. But, of course, it’s serious. And the nature of Reader’s Digest, as a publication that pre-masticates complicated and nebulous issues for the “average Joe” reader is to produce pieces that may distort the problem.

Most of what the article covers is familiar now. It’s true, an increasing portion of employers check out applicants (and even current employees) on-line, a process that is likely not to be very “fair” or “objective” and prone to error (finding the wrong person who seems to resemble the candidate, especially with common names) and misinterpretation. And it’s true, some close the book on an applicant (maybe the wrong person!) when they find bragging about drug use or underage drinking, or simply publicly notorious behavior, or, worse, badmouthing former employers or, worst of all, disclosure of trade secrets and confidential material, which can be illegal.

The tone of the article is a bit belligerent. “What do you do about that picture now that you’re looking for a job? Take it down!” In other words, in the real world, you have no right to make yourself famous or conspicuous on your own terms until you prove that you can provide for a family and compete by “other people’s rules.” I do get a little angry when I see this kind of attitude. There is an opposing view, that personal blogs and profiles created at home with personal resources are personal property apart from work; the problem is that they are displayed where stakeholders or clients often see them, much more often than one would expect.

There is, of course, a practical problem, and it seems out of control and nebulous, but we can use some common sense. I wonder about my own blogs and websites and have discussed this before. I don’t have risqué pictures and overtly objectionable behavior (except as depicted in a few fictitious screenplay scripts – and that even caused a problem with substitute teaching). Suppose it was my job to go out and get leads and sell insurance products to clients. How would clients feel when they found my material online with search engines, as some would? Some would be off-put and not want to do business with me. Some would feel I was “sharp-edged” or “self-indulgent” or had an “attitude,” or was particularly hostile to those who live in their conventional emotional world (exaggerated by the soap operas) of family loyalties. That’s why I wouldn’t want a job where the point of the job was to “manipulate” others into buying things that they may not need anyway, and join their “social network”. One can see that the problem is even more subtle that RD writer Andy Simmons makes it look.

An employer, for example, might determine that, although I have the technical background for his (often sales-oriented) job, I have no interest in "advancing" in the employer's culture, and that the job would contradict some of my own values. Therefore, it's not a "good fit." So, I'm better off if I don't go to work there, right? Probably. But what if financial stresses become too severe, or there are external family or filial responsibilities that I cannot prevent?

This problem started getting noticed a lot around 2005 as social networking sites took off. But before, there had been occasional incidents with people being fired for disclosing trade secrets or manipulating stock prices or making other unfavorable comments about work online (the origin of the verb “dooce”), and even a few where nurses or teachers were fired for having appeared in pornography, on the Internet, or (in a case on Dr. Phil) print ten years before.

We all know that some jobs are very dependent on “public image.” Teachers are expected to maintain public credibility as role models and authority figures, and this causes tension with their First Amendment rights as public employees. Simmons is right about this: the First Amendment refers to government; it does not prevent a private employer from firing you “at will” or not even hiring or even interviewing you for what you say online. The practical reality is that "victims" (whether by self-parody or defamation of others) of "reputation" problems often don't get anything like "due process" for their side of the story to be heard. (An important point for yesterday's post, too.)

Even (or especially) in show business, there is preoccupation with image, as American Idol contestant David Hernandez was cast off for having been a stripper. (Story.)

All of this gets really mixed up when one considers attitudes about family and sexuality, like sexual orientation. It’s convenient, for polite public purposes, to present sexual orientation innocuously as “immutable” like race, even if that isn’t quite correct, because to get into in deeper aspects (as with the debates about gay marriage and gays in the military) brings up all the questions about personal identification and family loyalty and values that are so difficult for many people (read: clients; read: students and parents) to deal with, when they find it every day at the stroke of a search engine on a teacher’s or employee’s name.

Simmons, to his credit, brings up the point that even “personal” religious writings could be viewed negatively by employers, who might fear that clients will feel that the individual proselytizes or will try to win converts or save souls in the workplace. But I think that this observation should win the attention of the evangelical community, which, in a practical (not necessarily the same as legal) sense, has as much reason to be concerned with online “freedom of speech” as does someone like me.

Simmons does mention the new industry that he calls "identity management." He lists Reputation Defender, often discussed before, as well as "Defend My Name" (I got a red from McAfee SiteAdvisor on that defendmyname, so I won't give the active link; maybe it is a false positive and will be cleared up; check for yourself.) Perhaps "identity management" will eventually come under regulatory precepts as does credit reporting and scoring. But this problem does not lend itself to government regulation; it needs "best practices" from human resources department, including public announcement of "blogging policies," tailoring the policies according to the nature of individual positions, and (as most companies do now), identifying "lower level" service employees in public by first name only (so clients can't look them up).

One other wrinkle to think about: in a few years, the "kids" with the Myspace and facebook profiles will be moving into positions where they make the hiring decisions (maybe in companies with critical issues to solve like carbon emissions). They may feel differently about this than employing managers do today. Or maybe not.

I have another detailed discussion on this blog dated Jan. 28, 2008 (see links on archives on left side of blog page).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is it too dangerous to talk about personal blogs at work? Sometimes. Not always.

About a year ago, I talked about the issue of mentioning one’s blog, social networking profile or personal website at work. Because sometimes content on a site might be misinterpreted “out of context” (as part of the “reputation defense” issue), it can be viewed as an inappropriate thing to do in some workplaces. One link is here (Jan. 29, 2007). And I took it up on Feb. 5 (and Feb 15) for substitute teachers here.

With regard to the incident that I discussed on July 27 on this blog, I wanted to note, for the record, that I had mentioned my websites and particularly my participation in the litigation against COPA (the Child Online Protection Act of 1998) numerous times before on assignments.

When I had a history-and-social-studies assignment, I often mentioned it in the handwritten notes to the regular teacher at the end of the day. I often mentioned that I had visited the Supreme Court twice (“extended” visits that started from the “three minute line”). I thought they would find it interesting that a “real world” person had experience with these matters. And I know that some of them did.

At one high school, about six months before the fall 2005 “meltdown,”I informally “briefed” the history teachers on COPA, showing them all of the links (mine, the ACLU, the Supreme Court’s own slip opinions) during a “planning period” in the teacher workroom. They looked the items up on computers or laptops in the workroom. They seemed genuinely interested.

At another, I showed it to a (young) history teacher for whom I subbed as a “assistant” and I saw him looking at the material even an hour later when I walked past his classroom. I would also show it to a female history teacher who would soon appear on “It’s Academic.”

At still another, I got to give a speech at the Arlington Career Center on Internet Safety issues. And at the same Center, with another teacher, who had helped the kids produce a feature film called “The House Party” (which has been shown publicly in Arlington), we went over some of my movie reviews, particularly that of “Jerome’s Razor,” which the teacher tried to find and watch online, because of the instructive nature of the filmmaking.

Finally, I went over one of my online “quizzes” with an English teacher, and had some discussion about President Bush’s inaugural speech.

So, countless times this had worked out OK. Then, apparently a parent found a “screenplay” by me that can be misconstrued out of context, and interpreted it as “real” rather than “fiction,” leading to the "big problem" and job meltdown, as I explained back on July 27 on this blog. The restructuring of my domains, merging them all onto, may have made that one item more conspicuous to a random observer. I discussed my strategy with domain names on another blog yesterday, here.

One can imagine a "do not mention" policy as part of the "solution" for removing "don't ask don't tell" for the military and replacing with a practical code of conduct for conditions in the military. Then one can apply some of the same precepts for teachers, but with different focus. (Think it through, what it might mean.)

The world of “reputation defense” is certainly a murky, cold and foggy one. Welcome to Titan.

Monday, March 10, 2008

EFF warns about practical problems of DMCA for ordinary speakers

Electronic Frontier Foundation has an important summary discussion “IP and Free Speech,” again reminding speakers and webmasters of the practical difficulties posed by overzealous implementation of copyright laws, and of the “invitations” for take-down notices that the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (actually it’s a supplement, the “Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act” (OCILLA)) offers. The “safe harbor” offers ISPs and webhosts immunity from liability when they comply. In theory, they are supposed to offer the speaker the opportunity to restore speech shown to be non-infringing; in practice they may have little economic incentive to cooperate with speakers.

It’s understandable that there is a bit of “low pressure” in this problem. ISP’s need to be profitable, in a competitive market and in an economy now that is turning more difficult due to external factors. If they offer large bandwidth and disk space for low cost (and they, in general, do), they will say that they do not have the resources to thoroughly investigate arcane and convoluted copyright claims and defenses.

EFF also points out that similar practical difficulties may exist with trademark law and domain names, especially since the passage of the Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2006, which is covered on another blog. The law, taken literally, still gives considerable protection to non-commercial domains and to domains set up for parody; in practice, small speakers might have trouble defending their rights. ICANN, however, is supposed to have an inexpensive procedure to arbitrate domain name disputes and has always had a “good faith clause” in its own policies.

The EFF link is here.

A related concept that is well to know about is “Strategic lawsuits against public participation”, of SLAPP’s, discussed here.

I have a fact sheet on the DMCA here.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Truth and Right: "Justice" is a kind of geometric mean

Some visitors to my blogs are familiar with my coverage of the theories of Paul Rosenfels, and I wanted to make a quick note about three concepts: truth, right, and justice.

Paul used to write about the pursuit of “truth” as an aim of the psychologically feminine personality, and the imposition of “right” as an aim of the masculine personality.

The parameters of “truth” are those of intellectual honesty and rationality. Truth requires acknowledging the facts that evidence points to. It is hard to define in advance, but on experience we know it when we see it. Some examples: it seems almost incontrovertible than man and other animals and life forms developed over varying periods reaching back into a few billion years, punctuated by various cataclysmic changes in the earth. That seems “true.” That doesn’t rule out some underlying “intelligent design” but it doesn’t prove it, so believing in the latter is somewhat a matter of faith. Fast forward. It seems like incontrovertible truth to me that AIDS is directly connected to HIV. The idea that HIV could never become casually contagious seems a little less absolutely proven. On the other hand, the idea that avian influenza, if it became human-human transmissible, would repeat the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 also seems speculative. Avoidance of truth seems motivated by a religious or a political agenda.

As for biological causes for sexual orientation, the evidence seems provocative but inconclusive. But “truth” does point to a broader idea: within any extended family or group of families, there is a wide range of human personalities and these seem to be hard-wired. It seems evident that not everyone is born to reproduce directly. Looking around at the animal world, this also seems to be true of many animals. Nature, however, generally provides a very high priority on reproduction and caring for the young.

“Right” sounds like a moral concept, but we find ourselves basking in epistemology when we try to trace the logical evolution of our ideas of right. So I like to backtrack to a middle concept of “justice.”

In libertarian thought, “justice” seems related to personal responsibility and outcomes that follow from the choices one has made. We like to see just outcomes, and sometimes we get wrapped up in wanting to see personal atonement for mistakes or wrong. But, in practice, outcomes occur that are partially due to external causes and beyond any reasonable control of the individual.

After the 60s, the far Left became concerned about individual social “justice” and wanted to force the rich to give up some of its “undeserved” wealth through expropriation. I recall particularly the sharp edge of the "moral" debate over draft deferments (and military combat MOS assignments) during the Vietnam era. The Maoist “cultural revolution” may have resulted in “justice” from the viewpoint of many people (when they are concerned with individual "deservedness" and "karma"), but it hardly seems “right” because it denies personal freedom and any choice of expression. (It's pretty easy to come up with many other unpleasant examples in history, some of them recent, where there is an apparent "rationalization" for "justice".) An “objectivist” insistence on “just” outcomes can lead to dead ends and contradictions. For example, if a criminal from the ghetto is punished for a violent crime, that seems just; but the historical background that led him to be deprived (in comparison to others who have “undeserved” wealth) seems unjust.

That seems where the idea of “Right” comes in. Some underlying assumptions, often spiritual in nature, drive what seems like a reasonable outcome. Unfortunately, sometimes these are “religious” in nature and get carried away with themselves (the “Moral Majority” and religious right of the 1980s). But even utilitarian thought can help suggest what is right. For example, it may make more sense in the current mortgage crisis to write off some loan balances and let more people stay in homes than insist that everyone carryout his contractual obligations to the letter.

One of the biggest problems for finding the “right” has to do with the family. Some people seem more inclined (even by “hard-wiring”) to pursue expressive cultural interests than to reproduce, and some may be more interested in adult relationships than parenting, and may not have children (it’s not that clear how much of this is a “choice”). But then we are left with one of the most perplexing questions: may the interests of those who do not bear their own children be mitigated to serve the needs of those who do? A libertarian would have said no, but the difficulty that a modern competitive society provides for parents has become quite extreme, to the point that we can have a demographic crisis. A religious person might see reproduction, or a willingness to submit one’s priorities to the reproductive needs of other family members and “live for family” first, as part of basic respect for human life. After a few decades of the “me generations” we are indeed finding this kind of question of “right” quite perplexing, and we need to deal with it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Blog postings, discovered by direct lookup, can seem deceiving: watch for "preaching to the choir"

Tuesday of this week I read a commentary by conservative columnist Cal Thomas in The Washington Times about the California Student Civil Rights Act. I wrote an entry about it and where it leads, here.

My point today is one of “annotation,” a concept that I remember from a college English class at George Washington University (back in 1963) where we had to write an “annotated bibliography” for a term paper to be turned in later in the course. It’s a good idea to look at blog entries and, for that matter, social networking site profiles from that perspective.

In this entry, I noted and linked to the commentary, and then to two “conservative” (I use the term loosely) websites that would seem to promote ex-gay conversions from a “Christian” perspective.

One would say, after a careless reading, am I “promoting” their point of view. I certainly don’t think so. Some would say, why even dignify their view with acknowledgement. Doesn’t that raise doubts? That’s no way to “win converts”. That’s no way to “sell.”

When I view the two “organizational” sites, I find a lot of emotional language about protecting children from secular or gay agendas, and the like. The intention of each site, by itself, is to “win converts,” partly by not allowing any distracting views.

But, of course, the problem with this kind of psychological “hucksterism” is that another party (me) can refer to these, and place them in a perspective that makes them look “bigoted.” Of course, there may be a little bit of “preaching to the choir” here. It presumes the reader will think about the writer’s “purpose” in each case, for each site visited.

Not all visitors do, because that’s a reading skill people have to be taught, as part of their education. That’s one reason public schools require four years of high school English, to learn to read things in context, not to be fooled.

That’s also another reason why “online reputation defense” has become an issue. People can find things by direct search engine lookup, but have no real context to judge the content that they find.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Another fabulist in non-fiction book publishing: is trade book publishing just too "numbers driven"?

Once again, we have a “fabulist.” A book, “Love and Consequences,” by Margaret B. Jones, about experiences as a half Native American growing up in the poorer sections of Los Angeles, has been recalled by Riverhead Books (part of the Penguin Group) after it was disclosed (apparently by the author's sister) that the book, as far as a true story, was a fabrication. Amazon has the listing, but confirms that the book has been recalled.

The real author was Margaret Seltzer, and apparently the book is a compilation of stories told her by friends and classmates. One asks, then, why not publish it as a novel and make it fiction. (We know from the “Freedom Writers” that stories based on inner city diaries, even if fictitious, can make good reads.) It sounds like it was pretty effective as writing. But apparently the publishers paid for the book or gave an advance on the idea that it was non-fiction. To a casual reader, that seems like a silly practice.

The news story appeared on page A1 print of The New York Times today (Tuesday March 4 2008), “Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction; Author admits memoir of gang life is fabricated,” by Motoko Rich, link here.

Rich followed up on p. A18 (New York Times) March 6 with "Foundation is questioned after memoir is exposed," about a supposed foundation "Jones" had started to mentor inner-city teens, link here.

ABC "Good Morning America" ran the story on March 5, 2008 by Russell Goldman, "Have Publishers Lost Their Mojo? Author of Hoax Book Created Elaborate Backstory: Latest Publishing Fake Raises Questions About How to Best Suss Out Fakers," link here. I wonder how high school English teachers and college professors would view this question in relation to their concerns about academic integrity with term papers and theses.

Other examples of this problem have been “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust years,” and James Frey ‘s “trainspotting” “A Million Little Pieces” which I actually did buy (cheaply) to see what the fuss was about. Even Augusten Burroughs and his "Running with Scissors" (which became an artsy movie from Tri-Star) allegedly made a lot of stuff up, link. His brother did not, however, with a riveting account of Aspergers in John Elder Robinson's "Look Me in the Eye".

Of course, we remember the film “Shattered Glass” about Stephen Glass at The New Republic (Lions Gate, dir. Billy Ray, with Hayden Christiansen as the “fabulist”). The real person would write a novel called just that.

Monday, March 03, 2008

VA pastor suggests a concept of "covenant parenthood"

Today (Monday March 3), The Washington Times ran, on page A2 print, the “Culture et cetera” page, a church-related story with an excerpt from a sermon by Rev. Al Dayhoff, preached Feb. 24 at the Grace Fellowship Church (Presbyterian) in Chantilly, VA (link), called “Children require play, school, God: Surviving parenthood entails responsibility of raising youth.” The sermon excerpt was a portion of a series called “surviving parenthood.” (No direct link was available at the Times, but here is an audio .mp3 link and here is the link for the sermon series. (There are similar links; the .org is a similarly named church in California; without "church" it brings up one in New York State.)

The excerpt develops a concept that he calls “covenant parenthood.” A covenant parent, he says, might not even have his or her own children, or “enough children.” That is, essentially, shared parenthood, through both adoption and the actions of extended family members, especially grandparents, and what he calls “second-tier” parents (aunts and uncles), “kinfolk” as in one of Maggie Gallagher’s pieces about marriage. At one point, he says “I have responsibility for your child and you for mine.” This sounds like Philip Longman’s proposals having government encourage people to babysit each other’s children instead of earning a living, in order to fix the “depopulation” problem (as in the 2004 book “The Empty Cradle.”) Of course, remember what is now a quite distinct concept, "covenant marriage." The term "parentage" actually means something in database software (especially IMS), a linkage that connotes a moral concept.

The sermon also talks about ways to “be with children.” That includes play. Only as he gets farther down the list does it become specifically “be with your children in their schooling.”

The message, on one level, is that even those who do not have their own children should accept responsibility for other people’s children and other family members, and that this idea has become a moral edict. Perhaps it expresses the sentiment that since parenting demands so much emotional "enlistment" (to include "attachment parenting" and the "family bed" sometimes) children, even as adults, owe their parents the same investment to continue the family in some meaningful say, according to "individual" ability. That is how this strikes someone used to living for decades in an individualistic culture that values “personal autonomy.” It seems to target "the (willfully) childless." However, the tone of the sermon is such that it obviously presumes a group mentality, the idea that loyalty to blood family and the surrounding community is the highest moral value one can have – to the point that it is no longer a “moral value” in the usual sense but just part of a commissioned, group-linked religious calling.

Related post from Feb. 2008, here.