Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Protecting your privacy on Facebook can be tricky, even if you don't seek limelight; be careful about the quizzes

Here’s a pretty important article by Tony Bradley of PC World, “Protect Your Privacy on Facebook and Twitter”. MSN-Dell included the link this morning (Sept. 30) here.

Bradley points out that the privacy settings in Facebook tend to create a false sense of security, particularly in the workplace where people are finding out that they can be “Facebook-fired”. There are chain-reaction ways for other users to get to semi-private Facebook posts (even though they did not get picked up by search engines), leading to the spread of rumors in workplaces or dormitories much as they always have in the physical world. There seems to be no way out of playing by the “social rules” of the workplace you are in.

A particular problem seems to be the ways quizzes or games work, which seem to invite the sharing of personal information more than necessary.

So, even though online reputation experts have made a lot of the effect of search engines, there are other issues inherent in the way some social networking sites and Twitter can be used that can trap people not trying to live in the limelight.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Facebook removes polling application after gross misuse

Facebook pulled a third-party application letting users create polls (that can be private or public) after the application was used for what we can say was a grossly inappropriate purpose. The Secret Service had asked Facebook by email that it be removed, but Facebook says its users had just already caught it and reported it. The developer of the application will be expected to create controls preventing such misuse, although it is hard to imagine how that would be done. The problem is that almost any plug-in poll or quiz application could be used for wrongful purposes. Similar problems exist with forums and blog comments. Section 230 was supposed to apply, I thought.

The CNN story on the incident is here.

Some news sites (especially AOL) take user polls associated with stories all the time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dictionary sites and search engine scraping

Chadwick Matin has a paradoxical article in the Sunday Washington Post (Sept. 27), “It’s getting easier to find the definition of ‘parasitic’ online”, URL link here. Try it in Bing, and you’ll get a definition, from the Encarta World English Dictionary, with source here. Try it in Google and you get the Wikipedia article on Parasitism, here.

Matin’s point is, of course, is that from Bing, right now, dictionary sites themselves will not get full page requests, leading to full advertising revenue. But this reminds me of the “news site scraping” problem that has led to legal action against a few news collection sites by the Associated Press.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thoughts really can interact with computers; Twitter lets users police each other

Today, Don Lemon on CNN described the “Brain Computer Interface” which would allow people to control computer driven activity with their thoughts alone.

The idea is scary: imagine what would happen if hackers could do this. Even bad thoughts in the workplace could do real damage to production files! Here’s a “how stuff works” article on the topic. Somehow this reminds me of the 1950s horror flick “Donovan’s Brain”, where a disembodied brain controls the stock market (causing a 2008-style crash).

This report also brings to mind the idea of using mind-reading technology for lie detection, as with the "No Lie MRI".

Josh Levs discussed the tools that Twitter has developed to allow users to rate and police other users, including those who send “spam” or too much needless personal details. You can read about it at his own Twitter account here. I don’t think Josth tweets as much as Ashton Kutcher.

The next step is to communicate by telapathy and prove that it works. I've already proven this to myself.

Friday, September 25, 2009

More columnists play devil's advocate with the legitimacy of user-generated content and "amateurism"

Michael Gerson has a provocative and somewhat negative perspective about the Internet in The Washington Post today, p A23, “Banish the Cyber-Bigots”. The link is here.

He discusses the Nazi propaganda machine in Germany in the 1930s, with its voice amplification and targeted use of posters and radio, as a precursor to today’s Internet. The metaphor works, he says, because the Internet has attracted so many fringe and extremist elements who, with “nothing to lose” (as in my August 2009 book review of Dozier's work), can bombard us with attacks against the vilified. He suggests that user-generated content, often sponsored my major corporations and major media outlets, amplify this kind of thing.

Now, I rather disagree that hate speech is dominating the Internet; in any case, when it occurs it generally “preaches to the ‘choir’”. Much of it (what he calls the digital equivalent of a public bathroom stall) would constitute TOS violations, although admittedly companies often don’t pursue these very energetically.

In my own posts, I try to give many of them credibility by providing links to “credible” or “reputable” original sources (as in the beginning of this specific post), often major media companies, sometimes government agencies (I do link to the White House blog a lot, as well as to the CDC for the ultimate source on public health stories). And it’s also true that “open source” and “grass roots” efforts like Wikipedia are tightening their editing standards to improve their credibility.

Gerson's post reminds me of a Readers Digest article about three years ago, saying that websites that published photos of residential or certain commerical buildings and made them targets should be banned. That was a bit strident; there are millions of pictures of residential and commercial neighborhoods on the Web (as on Wikipedia) that provide legitimate visual reference information.

The biggest problem with the future of user-generated content may indeed be existential in nature. Social networking is one thing, inasmuch as it is valuable for building a “legitimate” public reputation in some professional area. Self-publishing provides a bigger and older question, as to what it is “for”, until it pays enough money (to support a family, for example, if the eventual culture war outcome insists that everyone own some family responsibility, whether for own children or others) to cover its subsumed “systemic risk”. It seems to provide emotional or psychological satisfaction for people who want a voice and who don’t like to “compete” in “conventional” social hierarchies (including families), particularly in more intimate ways. Yet, when done well, it provides a valuable component to our debate, keeping established special interests honest. I still don’t know how this will settle out.

The Daily Beast has a disturbing story (indirectly pointed to this morning by AOL) about the experience of conservative blogger and writer Michelle Malkin here. Her own blog, well maybe it’s eccentric even within conservative circles, but it seems to me that this is what the lively grassroots debate on the Web should be all about.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mandatory insurance and systemic risk: could you stifle innovation? Does health care set an example for other things?

Last weekend, President Obama, in press interviews, said that our sharing the cost of health care by having some kind of reasonable requirement for mandatory health insurance (reasonably priced and taking care of the pre-existing condition problem) would be “the right thing to do.” Sometimes, he said, we should take care of each other and not just ourselves. As Michael Moore said on Nightline, we have to get beyond “survival of the fittest” and the US healthcare system certainly expresses Spencerian (not just Darwinian) objectivist values.

But a real point is reining in on “systemic risk” associated with individual actions. In practice, we do that in many other situations. Many states have mandatory auto insurance, and if you finance a car you have to have the insurance, just like you have to with a mortgage. There is indeed a controversy in some areas of the country about flood insurance, which can become necessary even in areas not in flood plains (as we found out in Atlanta this week). Although we sometimes put the health care problems in terms of runaway profits of private health insurers (Michael Moore does that), the real problem is that when people don’t have insurance, the entire public winds up holding the bag. The same came be true for property insurance and higher risk areas with regard to hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes.

In fact, we found out that this is true in the financial area, too. Giving a mortgage to someone not properly qualified is risky, and when too many people do it (and the resulting contracts are deceptively securitized) we can wind up with a “systemic risk” where an entire economy can come to a halt if 10% or fewer of people can’t pay their mortgages.

That’s why I am concerned about the “tone” of the proposals for mandatory health coverage of individuals, even if the moral intention is good and if some communalism is necessary. The ethic may become prescient and set examples in other areas. Within the past year or so, we’ve developed the notion that all “systemic risk” that an individual could pose is bad and should be stopped. What if we did that with Internet speech? Would we have mandatory insurance for bloggers, keeping most individuals out and handing speech back to the cabals and lobbyists? Would the Enter key on Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm computer in 2004 have been removed so he could not launch his innovation (Facebook) out of the “systemic risk” his innovation would pose for “online reputation”? Even Shawn Fanning’s Napster, in the end, was a valuable and spirited innovation even if it did have to high-jump a legal challenge and restructure. When individuals launch their physical or virtual “fields of dreams” they can never fully anticipate how others will play on them and who will keep score. Innovation requires accepting some systemic risk.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cosmetic surgery company agrees not to post "consumer" reviews (in line with FTC concerns about paid reviews)

A company named Lifestyle Lift (site) (which does cosmetic surgery) has settled with New York State’s attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and agreed not to post anonymous reviews of the companies servies on various online forums and websites. The news story by Mike Sackoff appeared in WebProNews, with this link. The company’s practice had been colloquially called “astroturfing.”

Employees of the company will no longer act as “consumers” when on the Web. The company had also apparently created websites made to appear they were created by consumers.

The settlement is in line with recent concerns at the FTC with bloggers disclosing when they are “paid” to endorse products, as well as lawsuits against companies by celebrities who said that they did not endorse products.

The story also comports with recent concerns that some doctors are forcing patients to sign “gag order” contracts not to discuss them (or rate them) on the Internet.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Naming Names" during republication of news stories (and online reputation)

On occasion, I cite previously published news stories about various issues in which ordinary citizens are named and discussed. In most cases, the original news stories will lead to the individuals’ names being picked up by search engines, in a manner that could in some cases affect their “online reputation.”

I cases where I reasonably believe that a non-public person’s reputation would be compromised, I do not republish the name in my posting even though the story is true and probably does not constitute invasion of privacy (or libel) by the usual legal standards. My concern is with the issue, not with the individual people involved. That way, there will not be additional search engine matches on the person because of me.

In some cases, where the person is already widely known, has been convicted of a crime or where there is overwhelming evidence of guilt (in the hands of law enforcement) before trial, however, I do republish the names.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Should I start a chess blog?

I still subscribe to Chess Life and Review, the USCF (United States Chess Federation) Magazine, since I became a Life Member in 1965, when I was going to GW.

The last rated game that I played was in 2000 in Minnesota, where I won the black side of an Exchange French by conferring mate as the flag fell. I remember getting a good position with White’s lifeless play, winning a pawn, and barely making time in G/30. I had lost the other two games that evening.

I wonder, given all my chaos these days, if I could return. What would I play? I haven’t kept up with the openings. But against the King Pawn, I like the French, because about half the time you get an Exchange Variation, and I think I won every single game with Black in which that was played. You don’t put your rook on the one open file as there are no points of penetration; you put them behind your pawns and storm. Against “3. Nd2” the “Qb6” counteractacks work, but I don’t know where theory is on the Winawer countergambit with 7 Qg4 by White, where Black gets all that counterplay for a pawn. I had only one game in my “career” where Black went in for that, in the Armed Forces Championship at Fort Meade, MD in 1969, and I won that game, in a pawn race.

Against “the Queen Pawn” I suppose the most solid equalizer is the Nimzo Indian. It seems that with a Kings Indian theory is somehow favoring White if theory tries hard enough. With the Benko Gambit, Black now has to deal with the f3 line, which returns the pawn for maybe a slight pull in space.

With the English, I think that a Sicilian Reversed is one of those openings in which the better player wins, even given theoretical equality.

And in Minnesota, I once lost (at Renaissance Fair) to a grandmaster who played the Kingside Fianchetto, set up pawns at e4, d3, c4, and then stormed on the King Side. Of course, there’s nothing in theory; you just have to find the right counterplay over the board.

Theory has become more flexible since the 1960s, when I first started playing in tournaments. In those days, Hans Berliner promoted the idea that the Exchange Variation of the Queens Gambit was practically a forced win for White because of the force pawn structure weakness imposed by the “Minority Attack” (like “Minority Report”). Experience has shown that’s hardly the case. Dogmatism gave way to pragmatism, as grandmasters like Kasparov made defenses like the Tarrasch work.

If I got back into tournaments, I could start a chess games blog. I think I would have to be careful about copyright, in republishing someone else’s analysis, which, although it could be paraphrased, would essentially be like misappropriating a “patentable invention.” But maybe if one used the analysis in one’s own tournament game and then published it, it would be OK. I wonder about the legalities here. Similar comments and concerns could apply to blogs on analysis of other games like Bridge or Go.

But I’ll share one link from my main free site and direct the reader to the comment on the French Winawer "Qd7" (a "different" Poisoned Pawn line), and note White’s innovation by Lothar Schmid, 17 g4! Forcing the win of an exchange in all variations (previously it was thought that White’s Queen was trapped, as in Watson’s book). There are some other occasional opening traps where a Queen is lost (“mated”) before it is directly attacked, sometimes after grabbing pawns on the opponent’s seventh rank.

Here is another chess blog that shows quickly on Bing. Bill Goichberg, who directed tournaments for the Continenal Chess Association for decades, wrote once, that even when playing a 2500-USCF rated player or grand master, only your own mistakes can beat you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Did amateur "citizen journalists" bring down ACORN?

There’s even more on whether “citizen journalists” are somehow twisting the ideals of journalism – while professional, neutral reporters “get laid off in droves.” Look at the story by Mark Bowden, “The Story Behind the Story,” about the reporting on Sotomayor, in the October 2009 Atlantic, here.

And then Tobin Harshaw of the New York TimesWeekend Opinionator weighs in on the fall of ACORN to “amateur filmmakers”, is a piece “ACORN falls, the Web rises,” here (posting by "VertitasVisuals").

Yes, sometimes bloggers or videomasters go out and find people to bust and bring down, and sometimes amateurs “preach to the choir.” But mostly, the collection of “amateur” citizen journalism on the web is a collection of diverse materials with very mixed points of view. There’s no monopoly, and only the best ideas and best presentations take hold, get and keep an audience over time.

Here's another reference on "cereal killer" James O'Keefe, and apparently a "conservative" grassroots here, by Kelly Fincham (link)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Be careful about winding up with other people's debt

Michelle Singletary has a hard-hitting column today (Sept. 17) on P. A17 of The Washington Post in her “The Color of Money” column; it’s “Family Bonds and Financial Burdens”, with link here.

In answering a reader’s question, Singletary warns that when you cosign on a loan for a relative in need, you tie your own credit history and financial reputation to that of the needy relative. “You may find it harder to get a mortgage or even rent an apartment if you are on the hook for someone else’s debt”, she writes.

True. In an earlier column a few months back, Singletary had noted that we have a “selfish system”. And sometime before even that, she had noted a pastor who was just beginning to notice the coming challenges of eldercare and saving for it.

Another way one could wind up with other people's debt in the past was to sell a home under assumption, in which the buyer didn't have to qualify. In the early 1990s the FHA supposedly tightened up on this. In any case, one should never sell a property with a note on it without knowing if one is ultimately still liable for the note (and maybe even a deficiency, in an upside-down market).

It’s all true, and we see these little family intra-dependency squabbles on shows like Judge Judy all the time. We’re finding that in an individualistic society the same “rules of engagement” don’t work well for everybody. But they didn’t in older tribal or collective cultures, either.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Montana city requires job applicants to disclose all personal web activity

The City of Bozeman, Montana caused a ruckus last June by requiring job applicants with the city to disclose all social networking sites with which they participate, along with passwords. The requirement also included chatrooms and forums. Presumably they would have to identify all blogs they write or other websites that they own (that would be very relevant in my case). The disclosure was a requirement for background investigations.

The original story had appeared on the Montana News Station June 17, here.

The incident sounds like a hyperbole of a suggestion that I had made: that employers state personal Internet and blogging policies clearly to job applicants, rather than sleuth behind their backs and often identify wrong people. Boy, this is extreme!

Furthermore, this requirement came from a public employer, where First Amendment protections to employees would apply directly. And as the Media Law project (below) points out, the disclosures invite discrimination for religion, race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and the like.

But a private employer that must send associates or agents to clients might be concerned about any Internet activity not covered by privacy screens and available to search engines, out of concern that clients will find the material, or out of fear of potential future compromises (you can't prove a negative).

Andrew Moshirnia of the Citizens Media Law Project also has a story about this here. The title is funny: “The Facebook Snatchers: Could Your Employer Hijack Your Account”? There’s advice here like never friend other people from your employer, or your employer as a company.

Of course, the meaning of “privacy” has changed. In the 1980s, for instance, most of us wanted our “private lives” to remain ought of sight; for gay men, for example, HIV status would become a secret item. Today, people publish quasi-personal facts on public and searchable blogs because they want to make their own arguments rather than let lobbyists speak for them. They put things out and expect people to respect the spirit and context with which it is offered. Unfortunately, that respect has to be earned and is not always there to be found.

Wikipedia attribution link for Montana train picture. I last visited the area in May 1998. Somehow the picture reminds me of the train from John Carpenter's "Ghosts of Mars".

Monday, September 14, 2009

The health (and retirement) debate takes us around ellipses, not circles

Let’s take the health care debate and walk upstairs and back down to the cellar with it.

Libertarians and social conservatives alike tend to like a forced savings, privatized, guaranteed issue and portable (sometimes subsidized for the poor) health savings account plan (covering most health care, even in old age, with special markets for catastrophic care), and, for that matter, retirement savings (eventually replacing Social Security and even conventional defined benefit pensions so championed by unions). They see things, up to this point, in terms of “personal responsibility”. Yes, they say, a lot of costly problems can be prevented by good health habits: avoiding smoking, drugs, high fats, sugars, STD’s, getting exercise. But such policies would result in people paying mostly for their own illnesses, including genetic ones they could not control (like probably juvenile diabetes).

Social conservatives want to add another layer of responsibility, socialization and attachment, mostly through the nuclear family. Yes, individually healthful behaviors can reduce risk, but some risks, such as having and raising children and caring for the elderly (and maybe even defending the homeland), need to be shared personally by everyone. This gets sticky in a society that values personal competition and recognition so much. But essentially, this kind of thinking is grounded in three areas: religious teachings (as conveniently interpreted) designed to transcend self (the “It isn’t about you” line of Rick Warren), presumed blood and family loyalty (controlled by legitimate parents or family heads), and (putting it individual terms), risky-uncertainty-burden –sacrifice sharing, or “karma”. They want families to take care of their own disabled, as every family will have them. They de-emphasize public recognition for personal accomplishment or artistic expression in favor of layered personal attachments, with the limelight reserved for those who “earn” it sexually (through marriage and parenting). Some relatively closed societies, ranging from the Amish to the LDS Church (the Mormons), function with good stability and almost no crime this way. (But so did tribal systems in radical Islam, and that leads elsewhere.) Efficiency gives way to a place for everyone within a local social unit.

It’s pretty easy to see, then, the attraction of European style “socialist” liberalism that, while statist, seems to take a lot of the most personal problems off people’s back and seems to allow more individual freedom without too much friction – except that, as we know, Europe slept too long, especially on integrating Islam into its culture (as in Bruce Bawer’s lesser known book). It’s easy to see the attraction of single payer health insurance, and even of subsidies for parents, without creating social frictions or trampling on LGBT people. Why can’t we have that system, some ask.

It all comes down to what will be sustainable, and that’s a tough, disturbing question. Sustainability does imply generativity.

I did have a disturbing, “Joseph dream” last night. As an elderly person, I was taking a multiple choice "open book" test, which was much harder than I thought I was stuck on a question half way through and was running out of time, being prompted by proctors to hurry up, even allowed to use my reference books. If I did not pass it, I was going to be removed from my apartment and be put in a group home. Down the street, teenagers were getting genetic and development tests. If they didn’t pass, they would be transformed into “grays”. We were on another planet, with plants slightly bluer and darker than our own (otherwise looking a lot like Earth, with similar levels of technology), and without money, but with a social system based on “karma” – and sustained perfection. There was no faith, no grace. The end was coming, as a brown dwarf approached and the planet’s human-like inhabitants would have to go to Earth to find another home. By now, I realized I was watching a movie, and it “was only a movie” or “only a dream” (and getting weird). Perfection is never sustainable.

Wikipedia link for NASA p.d. image of a pulsar planet.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Internet and democracy: self-publication, social networking, and microblogging interact in subtle ways

The New York Times “Week in Review” Sunday Sept. 13 has an interesting lead perspective by Annand Giridharadas, “’Athens’ on the Net: Internet democracy is a work in progress: (Don’t text-message your dissent)” with link here.

He talks about the idea that the web, especially modern microblogging and micro-networking tools like Twitter, make it possible for politicians to receive direct input from voters almost immediately. That’s good to the extent that it can bypass even the lobbying groups (and that S word, “special interests”) that try to mobilize voters into “we give you the words” emailing and petition campaigns. The writer doesn’t mention that Athenian democracy was where the concept of ostracism was also born.

The micro-blogging and texting may present a communications technology step beyond social networking as it developed in the 2004-2006 period. It’s well to remember how the social networking paradigm shifted. Zuckerberg (then barely out of his own teens) and his collaborators imagined their tools being used to facilitate networking within relatively organized and culturally homogeneous campus communities. It wasn’t until later that Facebook opened to everybody, as a more cultured and upscale alternative to MySpace, which was winding up on Dr. Phil too often. (Yup, LinkedIn would follow as “strictly professional.”) But then something else happened. Employers started trying to govern how these sites would be used, expecting applicants and associates to present themselves publicly in social conformity with the norms of their businesses. A tool that had represented individualism and freedom could be twisted to demand social conformity (the Chinese carry this kind of thing much further, to be sure). A social networking profile was supposed to constitute a way to meet people, but now it had to remain commensurate with both business and filial purposes. (In this regard, it’s interesting to consider recent litigation in New York where LLDEF won a ruling that characterization of a person as “gay” is not defamatory, although that argument seems to rest on immutability, not on recognizing intellectual and moral subtlety.)

Before 2004 (from about 1998), Internet self-publishing, abetted by the unexpected effectiveness of search engines (and you never really had to pay for placement) really could work as a kind of “passive social networking”, especially effective for “moderate introverts” like myself – writers, artists, musicians, and the like. Along would reasonable “real world” circulation (preferably in a large city, and with some doses of volunteering in the right places), it could help you build of networks of friends and social contacts that you really wanted. It was the “publication” aspect that was helpful to introverts or less gregarious people: they had a chance to show the world what they could do first. Since the Web 2.0 and 3.0 changes with social networking and microblogging and texting, the usefulness of the Web as a tool to “level the playing field” in terms of conventional social competition has actually been somewhat reduced, partly because it is so easy to abuse (the “asymmetry problem”) and because of all the “online reputation” hype. It could be threatened and eliminated altogether, if some “existential” concerns that I have raised in previous posts really came to pass.

The "passive social networking" process, based on "accomplishment" and self-controlled content delivery, raises another philosophical question. In human societies, especially in families and sometimes classrooms, it's important that people be respsected just for being human and having some role within the group or family, not because of a publicly visible accomplishment. Psychologists use the term "attachment" to characterize this process. For some of is, it is a lot more "comfortable" to dismiss attachment and focus on accomplishment, because in certain venues it gets us the interaction we want. But it can run out of steam, and leave people behind.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It might be better to sleep alone, even if you're "married"; P.S. "The Washington Tea Party"

Here’s a good warmup story from “EcoSalon” by Sara Ost: “Scientists say sleeping together ruins your health” with link here. In fact, it links back to a BBC News report of research in Britain by Dr. Neil Stanley, that a couple has 50% more sleep disorders if it shares a bed. It’s better to sleep apart, and save being together for “special occasions”, maybe those that will lead to the “blessed event”. The link in BBC is here.

In fact, conservatives have been complaining that Hollywood downgrades marital intimacy (the kind celebrated by “The Song of Solomon”) and tends to portray marriage as boring and humdrum, even given all the social supports.

But this story reminds me of a film shown at the Andy Warhol museum when I visited it in 2007, "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone" (2006, (“Hei yen quan”, Strand Releasing, 2006, Tsai Ming-laing, 115 min, R), a curious examination of the lives of street people in the poor sections of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see the movies blog, MaY 2007).

I’m struck by how much of the debate over “family values” comes back to training family members (not just children) to accept the emotional attachments set up by the parents. The media would surely provide a lot of distraction from that. Isn’t this what the Mormon “family home evening” is about?

Update: Later Saturday: The Washington Tea Party

I caught it on the Metro when attending the DC Shorts film festival downtown. One placard said, "The the government ran the Sahara Desert, there would be a shortage of sand" ("Sahara" is a Clive Cussler novel and movie.) I got into a discussion of the upcoming social security deficit and filial responsibility laws. I didn't bring the camera downtown (mistake for a blogger), but here is CNN's take:

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009: Looking back, looking forward, with some alarm

Today, Sept. 11, 2009, is the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, a day which, in my life, seems to mark a major challenge to my own faith in individualism. What has happened in the past years has rocked my own moral belief system like a hammock.

In the weeks after 9/11, Americans were taunted by videos from Osama bin Laden, gratuitously shown by the media even as President Bush launched retaliation in early October 2001, that seemed to blame Americans as individuals for the problems around the world. Actually, many experts, such as Peter Bergen, challenge this view. Bin Laden, he says, really is driven by grievances that are expressed in conventional “world history” political and religious terms, a lot having to do with “infidel” presence on sacred Muslim lands.

My whole adult life, however, I’ve been exposed to ideological challenges to individual modernism, ideas that westerners depend upon the hidden sacrifices of others overseas, whether in taking natural resources such as petroleum (an idea playing out in Nigeria now), or labor (cheap labor overseas – the Wal-Mart controversy). We’ve seen extreme proposals to bring about “absolute justice” in such totalitarian movements such as Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s, where intellectuals were forced to take their turns becoming peasants.

Actually, these ideas were around when I was growing up, in the shadow of the World War II victory against “fascism” that sometimes was followed by exercises in the kind of thinking in America that our “greatest generation” had gone to war and considerable sacrifice to defeat. In fact, “deservedness” seemed to live at the heart of moral thinking in those days – even if that is at some contradiction to the tenets of Christianity.

But some of my concern over the retreat from individualism relates back loosely to what we call “family values”. I’ve discussed this before in terms of “karma” and related it to the challenges posed by “asymmetry” in Internet expressions by individual. But I’m struck by something more fundamental. Our culture used to assume that everyone would remain loyal to his blood “family” and inculcate the public values of married parents. The family, as a community, helped shape identity and the willingness to accept “attachment” from other people outside the obvious consequences of choice (to have children with sexual intercourse, or sometimes by adoption). In earlier eras, it was “family”, with its connectedness to unseen biological and spiritual collective futures (vicarious immortality and lineage), that seemed to give meaning to all personal accomplishment -- as well as to the permanent intimate relationship of the parents. Hyper-individualism would challenge and change all of that, but now radical individualism seems in somewhat of a retreat, because of concerns over sustainability, generativity, and deeper ideas about justice and – yes – karma. This is not the best of times for introverts.

We’ve gotten used to presenting family responsibility as the consequences of voluntary choices (pregnancy), but such a view is incomplete, and carried too far, leads to some behavior that is at least cynical (as Philip Longman and Allan Carlson write), sometimes maybe almost cowardly (a way to "get out of things"). This older view saw everyone as accountable to family – of course sometimes inviting abusive behavior by family heads (the “Stefano” problem of “Days of our Lives”), sometimes to tribalism or even feudalism (and fratricidal wars -- as well to the behavior of the Taliban today), but it could “take care” of everyone, guarantee some sense of worth within the immediate loving family, regardless of what uncertainties of the “outside world” could inflict on any one person. Therefore, even if you didn’t have your own kids, you were responsible for siblings (especially younger ones), under the authority of the sexual life of your parents, not yourself -- you learned attachment and family intimacy and were ready to step in and take care of others, including siblings, their kids, or particularly your parents.

The demographics of eldercare (and fewer kids and fewer wage earners) are forcing this reality back upon us. Many states have “filial responsibility laws” and the current budget crises are likely to lead to their enforcement – and these situations can go way beyond the better known Medicaid giveback problems. People, especially the childless, are likely to come to see responsibility for parents as something that can be comparable to responsibility for kids – something the “sandwich generation” is finding out. There are many particular differences, but there are some overriding similarities. People can be forced to make some of the same sacrifices for parents (in a few states, even siblings) that we think of as necessary for kids – and sometimes it’s actually the law. “Family responsibility” needs rethinking, and the media ought to cover this more candidly. In ways that seems paradoxical, it makes the gay marriage debate even more compelling than the usual arguments about the official benefits of marriage do.

A couple of generations ago, most of the discussions about morality had to do with shared duties, even conscription (remember the days of student deferments?) We ought to understand better how today’s issues map back to much older problems that my generation struggled with. For example, the "don't ask don't tell" issue today compares to the draft and student deferment issue of my own coming of age.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

US Military is two-faced about soldiers' blogging

The United States military, especially the Army, has a Janus-faced approach to blogging, according to a story on the front page of the New York Times Sept. 9 by James Dao, “Pentagon keeps wary watch as troops blog”, here.

Because of various security threats, services have sometimes banned access to social working sites and blogging services from military computers, and some commands insist on reviewing what servicemembers write. But the services, especially the “Army of One”, are beginning to see that they could be missing something.

The Web, after all, with its bottom-up, “democratized” structure contradicts the whole concept of a hierarchal military with its chain of command.

Soldiers and sailors typically do not have access to personally owned computers when deployed, and must use military computers and probably military wireless devices like cell phones. So the same issue of “private use” or separation of personal life, often assumed in civilian life, is less relevant.

Blogging could represent a serious issue given the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays as well. If the DADT policy is repealed, the military will probably need to develop online conduct policies with regard to sensitive matters like sexuality—but these could be developed administratively by DOD, without Congress (and hopefully without the courts), once DADT is repealed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

HR world notes FTC rules about blogging

The HR world is starting to take more note on the controversy over blogging policies and the whole subject of “conflict of interest”, partly because the FTC recently announced it would tighten rules for bloggers reporting gifts of payments to cover certain products or services.

The article is by Ed Fauenheim and Rick Bell, is titled “A tighter rein on HR Blogging”, and appears in Workforce Management Online, here. The last section of the article is called “The taming of the blogger.”

But the article covers a lot of territory, and suggests that it is difficult to get into specialty blogging, including Human Resources blogs, given the volume of materials. It’s also difficult to avoid “conflicts of interest” or implied future compromises of confidentiality.

Businesses, however, have been shipshod in looking up job applicants online, sometimes forming bad impressions over incorrectly identified profiles or third party comments from non-credible sources.

Monday, September 07, 2009

How to set up a more "coherent" web presence?

I know I’ve gone through my ideas about how to “consolidate” my web presence before, but perhaps now is a time to revisit the topic, out of concerns for “sustainability”, at least.

Although I have no immediate plans for major changes, I do envision a more compact presence, with redundant material removed, if situations in the future, such as insurability, “implicit content”, or job related concerns about “online reputation” (so mediate by social networking site mentality) require me to “simplify”.

Essentially, a consolidated presence would comprise a single “site” (although there might be more than one physical domain, for example, to use both Windows Server and Unix services), with a certain hierarchal structure. That organization would consist of these elements:

(1) A “Master essay” tracing my concern over the “social contract” issues, more or less along the lines of my Aug. 17 posting of my “docudrama” (documentary film treatment) outline. The essay might overlap other materials on the site and might be accompanied with some photos or video materials.
(2) Some specific topic essays, that would remain fixed in form, but that might be replaced once a year or so as “external world” circumstances change. These topics would stress first specific issues that I have worked on. A tentative list (or “functional decomposition”) might go as follows (and each essay might decompose further into codable subtopics):
(2a) The “don’t ask don’t tell” problem: the underlying mentality, and its effect on service
(2b) Internet censorship and “implicit content”
(2c) Family responsibility, and how our notions of it have flip-flopped
(2d) Fundamental rights and equality: when does our Constitution get involved?
(2e) The “online reputation” problem: social networking, self-publication, asymmetry, and accountability
(2f) The evolution of business computing (into and away from mainframe “culture”)
(2g) The sustainability of freedom

(3) "The Blog":
(3a) Microblog entries that point to current event stories, with coding to link back to categories defined by (2) above.
(3b) Occasional blog entries of an original nature for news that does not fit into the pattern already established.

(4)Reviews, structured as now on the blogs (but no separate TV list)
(4a) Movies (including “TV films”)
(4b) Books
(4c) Live events (plays, concerts, new music)

One goal of this “restructuring” is to handle the “implicit content” issue and make my motives clearer. The essays remain relatively static (they essentially amount to an e-book) and do not represent a potential “future” problem (such as creating a fear that a confidentiality will be compromised). They present a world-view. In this regard, I have to note that I already have accumulated several sets of static essays (the three books, the “1996 essays”, the “2001 essays”, and the “controversial topics” directory on These would be reduced to one “manageable” set, although the books (and running footnotes, frozen as of some date) might be kept online in e-book or pdf form. The essays would not be modified once published for considerable time, but would be effectively updated by label aggregations from the microblog entries (next).

The microblog entries point to news stories that can be grouped (by Blogger or Wordpress categories or labels), and tracked back to one of the master essays. The underlying point is to give the visitor an efficient way to track the “progress” (or “deterioration”) of a particular problem (for example, the H1N1 or H5N1 pandemic concerns) through credible and largely factual news stories with emphasis on the most established sources (like CDC for this example) without much editorializing or opining on my part (or anyone else’s). One of the best things about blogs is that (with labels) one can trace the history of a tricky problem (for example, online reputation defense), and some of that would be preserved with this approach. In this restructuring, the blogs would be A-record-linked to domain space that I own and presumably be more sustainable. Possibly many of the desirable features (like Next Blog) could still be used.

The reviews would actually help me network to get my own film ideas in front of agents and get them made. For that purpose, I personally believe that some passive networking (as well as the more modern formal “Zuckerbergian” social networking) would be effective for this purpose. It’s particularly effective in working with other young artists (filmmakers, composers, musicians). The reviews would be linked by label or category, but could be sequenced by approximate production date also.

Part of the marketing effort would be my own “creative writing” progress, including screenplay treatments or scripts; but because of some “implicit content” questions that have come up (as well as the so-called “third party rule”), it might be necessary to keep them in a privacy-controlled, non searchable space.

Advertising issues remain open. The other issue would be to attract constructive comments (and not pharmaceutical spam!)

Such a setup would be more stable and permanent, and would allow me to "leave it" for periods, for example to go overseas, for "real life".

I still have some MySQL database work on, which is “not very public” in practice, and I may try to integrate that. However, my “legal issues” wordpress blog on that site has attracted mostly spam comments, whereas Blogger in recent months has attracted much better comments, for me at least.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Campaign finance reform, decline of lobbying, and controversy over "asymmetric" blogging complete a full circle

On Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009 The Washington Post ran a story about campaign finance reform, a matter that is coming to a head. On Wednesday, Sept. 9, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments as to whether governments can limit corporate contributions to political campaigns. The case expanded out of a controversy about a “conservative” film “Hillary: The Movie” (reviewed here in May 2009), as to whether that film is essentially a political endorsement (or anti-endorsement).

The Washington Post story is by Robert Barnes, “High Court to Revisit Election Financing: film about Clinton opens a review of corporate spending,” link here. Mr. Barnes, the Supreme Court reporter for the Post, will hold an online discussion Sept 9 at 1:30 PM after the oral arguments (including new Justice Sonia Sotomayor) conclude.

Philosophically, the question revolves around whether political influence belongs to those with power. Individual blogging can become a significant challenge to this hegemony, as pointed out in an old editorial (“Suffocating the First Amendment”) in The Washington Times on Oct. 12, 2005 (answering an accomodating Post editorial on Oct. 11). The Federal Election Commission did rule in 2006 that generally it would not regard individual blogs discussing political issues (like mine, such as “don’t ask don’t tell” or COPA) . As I indicated on July 27, 2007 this “conservative” newspaper editorial accidentally precipitated a bizarre incident involving my own writings (in late 2005) when I was substitute teaching. I discussed the incident with the Washington Times in 2008, which no longer made the editorial available online; the editors did go back and find it and thought the "coincidences" curious.

On Sunday, The Washington Post ran a related story about the decline of “registered lobbyists” on K Street in Washington. It’s by Dan Eggen, and is titled “Lobbyists Feel the Pinch as Downturn Hits K Street”, link here. Lobbying firms know that sometimes their clients face a choice between meeting a payroll and paying for influence in Washington. In 1988-1989, I worked for Lewin, which provides data on health care to clients, including lobbying groups.

However, the “democratization” of debate through the “asymmetric” effect of free entry in theory ought to reduce the influence of lobbyists. In fact, if I were paid to work as a lobbyist, I couldn’t ethically blog to express my own views on controversial issues (that gets to the “blogging policy” issue in another recent post). Yet “asymmetric free entry”, for self-publishing, at least, may come under legal and political pressure forcing “amateur” bloggers to become more accountable (issues about anonymity, Section 230, even media perils insurance, as discussed here before). That was what helped precipitate the 2005 public school incident above. We come around in a full circle.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I recall Labor Day Weekend in 2001, as it led up to 9/11

As Labor Day weekend begins (with media reports of an accident on the Maryland Bay Bridge), I take a moment to recall the same weekend eight years ago, in 2001.

I have just moved into a large apartment in the same building in Minneapolis, with the new lease starting Saturday Sept. 1. In those days, I had Windows ME on a Sony Vaio computer, and the first of every month, the background color for the desktop would change (to yellow that day).

I would take off on the road, to visit GLBT pride in Duluth, and do a visit to an oil tanker in Lake Superior, and attend a dinner cruise in the Lake. I’d have to drive 70 miles to a motel room in Ashland, WI. There, I would not be able to connect to read email on my older Windows 95 Compaq laptop.

Next day, after Pride, I would drive to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and make a Sunday evening excursion to the nearby Ouimet Canyon. That evening, in the Comfort Inn, I’d find that I had to pay a small access fee to access my AOL account through dialup (that old Windows 95 laptop) from Canada. I had missed email for a day.

I remember noticing one email with a curious headline that said something about “911”. I thought it was probably spam or virus-generated and deleted it without opening it, but I think it had arrived early Saturday afternoon, while I was arriving in Duluth. A couple friends would later report getting a similar email. Nobody read it. I wonder if I would have acted if I had read it and it had aniticpated what would soon happen.

Monday, I drove home to Minneapolis, stopping at a “reservation” casino along the way back on I-35. The weather was warm and sunny everywhere all weekend.

I had sometimes ventured up into north country before. In July 1999 I had stayed at a very hot Grand Portage on the border without air conditioning (or dialup); Labor Day weekend 1999 I had spent a curious night at the Burnside Lodge near Ely, MN; early in July 2001, I had visited the Northwest Angle, traveling through a dirt road in Manitoba to get there, and had a distance encounter with a bear.

But the clock was running down as I arrived back. On Sept. 4 (Tuesday), I’d pick up, in a downtown Minneapolis Walgreens, a Popular Science Magazine that warned of EMP attacks that could be launched by “bad guys”, very cheaply. (Curiously, I can't find a link for the article now online.) I hoped it was bunk, but a sense of unease was descending. On Thursday and Friday that week, our workplace was besieged with the Magister Virus, which people said was the “real thing”.

Monday night, Sept. 10, 2001, people would play water volleyball in the apartment swimming pool on the penthouse floor, the only time I saw residents and guests play that.

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, we were scheduled to have a team-building lunch and cruise in the Mississippi River, launched from Alton, MN (south of I-94, E of St. Paul). We actually went ahead and held the event, but I remember that day so well. Around 1:30 AM on 9/11, I woke from a vivid dream about a nuclear explosion near my home of origin in the DC area. I was shaking and I had no idea why I would have such a prescient dream.

Tuesday morning, I got up around 7:05 CDT (8:05 on the East) and looked up some stuff on AOL about a trip that I wanted to make to New York in October about political filmmking. I was going to call and make reservations when I got home. I hesitated, and printed out a couple items, and left for work along the Skyway around 7:50, having turned off the TV about 7:40. I didn’t hear anything at work right away, and I closed out a couple of production problem tickets, before a woman appeared in my cubicle at 8:25 and told me about the attacks. I could not get to Yahoo! as the Internet was frozen by use. I walked down to the operations room, just in time to see the pictures after an AA airliner had ploughed into the Pentagon.

We nevertheless held the cruise. The day was cloudless. No one had any information on the attacks. Osama bin Laden got mentioned, but people thought it could be as likely to be Balkan groups with a grudge. We suspected that planes were grounded.

As we came back, we heard about the extra 47 story building near the WTC that was about to go.

That night, IFP-MSP would still hold a screening at the Landmark Lagoon Theater of “L.I.E.” (Long Island Expressway), and the director, Michael Cuesta, was in town. We’d adjourn to a bar downtown, as Cuesta knew he would be in Minneapolis for a few days, giving the grounding of all flights. Curiously, L.I.E. has a shot of the WTC, which was taken out of the DVD version.

Everything changed after that day. We thought about some fundamental concepts about our own rights differently. We would be forced to realize that as, individuals, we can be put in harms way of others believe, even wrongfully, that our gains came at the hidden sacrifices from others. The idea of karma itself could revert more back into collective responsibility. We would almost immediately hear proposals to resume the draft. Yet, we would soon learn how the Bush administration had slept on the job, and how easily this attack could have been intercepted and stopped with any competence and communication at all.

My layoff would occur 92 days later, on December 13, 2001. And I did not make the same trip to NYC, although I did go at the end of October and would see the WTC damage first hand.

Attribution link for Ouimet Canyon picture from Wikimedia

Friday, September 04, 2009

My "online reputation" II: Facebook and LinkedIn

I tried a little check on my online reputation by entering my legal name “John W. Boushka”. What came up on Facebook is interesting: (link). If you’re logged in to Facebook as a member (I presume that most job recruiters would be) you can click on the master link for me and see the “wallpaper”.

Well, the wallpaper doesn't comprise the propeller airplanes on the wallpaper in my bedroom when I was six years old. It’s OK. There are microblog postings from Friends, tracking them more than me, because I haven’t used the service a lot (yet). Most of it comes from Friend invitations that I accepted, and from joining a screenwriter’s group. Some people may imagine a “profiling” issue, but in a screenwriting group there can be some concentration of particular subject matter at a particular time.

In I.T., I don’t think this matters, but if I were a life insurance agent, I can imagine an employer would worry about what potential clients will “think”, right or wrong. That’s the tricky part of social networking that people didn’t really get when the services were set up in 2004. People expect it to mimic the real world, and it really doesn’t. A 66 year old probably won’t be aggressive in “friending” much younger people (even legal adults) because of the lookism issue and because of how it “looks”. And there is the social networking site “rejection” game that can mimic the real world (if not the speed-dating world).

The “Linked In” reference does talk about my old I.T. background more, and because of space problems and character count limits, I had to continue it on a blog entry.

The site is my “mainframe IT professional” site, and site is the condensed social issues site where I have tried working with MySQL, and the is the large social issues site based on my books. But as I explained before, publication for me became a form a passive social networking.

The "grand master" of social networking sites so far seems to be Ashton Kutcher. I do like his Myspace blog.

Update: September 22

Here's a story by Carolyn Y. Johnson at the Boston Globe, about an MIT project to see if sexual orientation could be predicted reliably by one's Facebook "friends." It's called "Project ‘Gaydar’: At MIT, an experiment identifies which students are gay, raising new questions about online privacy", link here.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Should flu patients blog about their illness episodes?

Some companies and organizations are encouraging individuals to blog about getting the flu, especially with social networking tools like Twitter. Companies that track epidemics can troll the Web, pick up data, and use it to feed geography-based applications to warn others.

That’s the subject of a Sept. 2, 2009 front page story in The Washington Post, by Michael E. Ruane, link here.

Some of the applications, like Google’s Flu Tracker (link) are well known and general. Others are potentially more pervasive. Some, such as in Singapore, would inform someone on a cell phone with Bluetooth that they were in an area with a high concentration of flu cases.

Obviously, it’s hard to say how the systems would know which flu cases were fro H1N1 unless the bloggers had been given test results.

It would raise the possibility of medical privacy questions, and the idea that “amateur” tweets or blog entries would transmit confidential information accidentally, including medical information protected by HIPAA. That might not be an issue if the posting subject matter were limited to the speaker only, not, say classmates. (There are plenty of personal accounts online of undergoing cancer treatment, for example.) This tracks back to some of the “self-publication” issues we’ve covered before on this blog.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Reporters who didn't do social networking well got sacked

A New York Times article in the Media and Advertising section on Aug 31 2009 paper highlights the fact that in some jobs, people must have Facebook and/or Twitter accounts and must use them for their employer’s purposes. The story was titled “You’re Gone But, Hey, You Can Reapply” by David Carr, in the New York Times, Aug. 31, 2009, with link here.

A Gannett paper in Westchester County, NY, the Journal News, New York’s Lower Hudson Valley)-- fired, or, say, laid off -- its employees and made them all reapply for their jobs. Employees were disgusted at having to say why they “deserve” to work at the paper.

But one person, apparently unsuccessful, reported.

“How is the fact that I don’t have a Twitter or Facebook account relevant to what I do?”

Previously, the Pew Internet & American Life Project had reported that over 10% of employees in the US must use Internet social networking for their employer’s purposes, not their own.

Wikimedia Commons link for Bear Mountain Bridge picture.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Craigslist attracts attention for its laid back use of technology and "business model"; is this like mine?

The Sept. 2009 “orange” Wired Magazine issue has a cute story by Gary Wolf on p. 98, “The Tragedy of Craigslist.” The online ver sion’s title is even less flattering, and you can look it up here.

The article describes the technological and even corporate “simplicity” of Craigslist under Craig Newmark and later Jim Buckmaster. You look at the site, and it seems like a series of tabular linked lists, with little of the snazzy technology even available in 1999, no less today. The site gets billions of hits and lots of revenue for charging for only some ads or only in some cities. Actually, the Wikipedia article explains most of this. The site has become controversial given some tragic cases (as in Boston) involving sexual services, which the company has tigh

What’s interesting to me is that I likewise kept my technology “simple” and, as a proprietorship, did not have to worry about ROE or fiduciary responsibility to owners. The long Wired article makes it appear that Newmark would be a difficult business partner for this reason, and I suppose this is a good lesson for me to ponder, in advance, as I have some similarities in this area.

Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. WWII era p icture of San Francisco Bay.