Friday, February 26, 2010

EFF posts advice for music bloggers on DMCA takedown and censorship issues

On Feb. 24, Electronic Frontier Foundation posted a summary column by Fred von Lohmann, “Practical Advice for Music Bloggers Worried About DMCA Takedown Censorship”, in the EFF “Deeplinks” log, link here.

Some of the tips deserve extra note. For example, bloggers might well consider mapping their blogs to a regular shared hosting domain that they own, rather than depend on someone else’s “free service” (we saw that advice a couple years ago with respect to the spam-in-blogs problem). But it’s important to know your ISP: not only is its technical support reliable, but also does it handle DMCA takedowns in a way that is considerate of customers?

Another tip questions the advisability of sending a “DMCA Counter Notice”, as is allowed by the DMCA, without seeking legal advice from an intellectual property lawyer, as it could invite a lawsuit from the copyright owner. (ISP’s and blogging services may tell you that you must counter to protect your rights; be careful, the article says.)

Perhaps the most important issue, however, is the most subjective. In the music business, it’s very hard to tell who has the authority to give permission to incorporate a music segment (usually, it seems, most of these offenses have indeed occurred with MP3 embeds). A music blogger-journalist should, it would seem, know the business as well as the music, because that is partly what he or she is writing about.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"The Italian Job": verdict on downstream liability can raise challenging questions for future of user-generated content on the Internet

All morning long, the Web has gushed a geyser of stories about “The Italian Job” – and I’m afraid it’s without (Napster creator) Shawn Fanning’s having fun as a movie star. That is, this snowburst is all about the verdict against three Google executives from an Italian judge for supposedly violating criminal statutes in Italian law regarding privacy by allowing a video making fun of a disabled teen to be posted on YouTube. (They were acquitted of the “criminal defamation” charge.) Have no misunderstanding, creating and posting the video was morally reprehensible, but the offense was created specifically by those who created and posted it (and Italian law enforcement had dealt with them). But everyone is properly concerned about holding those owning web services allowing such posts without review or supervision liable to civil and criminal responsibility. Indeed, if western governments (the US, Britain, western Europe, etc) as a matter of general practice held service providers to such standards of “downstream liability”, the web as we know it could not exist. People could not self-publish on the web on blogs, their own sites, or social networking sites.

But there is a lot to sort out here. The best of the articles on this verdict seems to my reading to come from Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica, with link here. I started my coverage of this matter on the “Bill on International Issues” this morning before there were so many stories. The reader can go to my Blogger Profile and easily navigate to that entry as a supplement.

First, there is a practical question. The “company” is likely to win on appeal, and even if it doesn’t the European Union would probably overturn Italy, partly because the EU is seriously considering improving its safe harbor provisions. And couldn’t “the company” just pull out of Italy? If it did so, the Italian parliament would be pressured to fix things quickly. If this verdict had come from Saudi Arabia or Iran, we wouldn’t take it so seriously (nor would we if it came from China, but that’s a separate matter).

In fact, the European Union has a provision "Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market ('Directive on electronic commerce')", link here that arguably provides some Section 230-like (when compared to US law) protections for service providers including Blogger, Wordpress and YouTube (as well as ISP's).

In the United States, the main exposure would be civil (usually, except for the possibility that new cyberbullying laws, so far applicable only to the original posters, might come into play). With other matters, mainly defamation and copyright, there are two main instruments in US law protecting service providers from liability, “usually” – Section 230 in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and the “Safe Harbor” provision if the 1998 DMCA. Both provisions have been the subject of controversy (in both directions) covered on this blog, and both conceivably have weaknesses.

Now one wrinkle seems to be that Italian law allegedly (I speak in the subjunctive mood here) protects Internet Service Providers, but not “content providers”. But Italian law seems not to have a section 230 concept where a website accepting user-generated content exempting the webmaster from most liability related to unreviewed content posted by users. I’m not sure how this plays out in other European countries (I hope some visitor can tell me how it works in the UK, for example). Apparently the EU wants to implement something like Section 230, with politically sensitive limitations.

There’s more to ask here. Is a publishing service (like Blogger or YouTube) essentially like a forum where a webmaster invites comments and then may or may not be responsible for moderating the comments? (I remember big issues with forum moderation back around 2000; it can be a lot of work.) In the US, we think it is not; we experience it more as it were an ISP. But what it really becomes, is a free service with a business model predicated on the participation of advertisers. But it’s different from broadcast or network media (with shows dependent on paying “sponsors” for decades) because it does invite and use the unedited content provided and “self-published” by users. You have to ask a number of other questions. Most broadcast networks invite comments from users who can self-publish their own comments on their sites. Should CNN, ABC News, your local television station, etc. be responsible for unreviewed material posted by users? I hope not. (Section 230 would protect them in the US, but I guess not in Italy.)

But we can turn that question around. Suppose a publishing service provider only provides the service to those who subscribe and pay for space the way we pay for ISP services like shared hosting? (In fact, Google charges for some services, such as extra picture storage.) Is the provider then immune? It sounds as though, maybe so, according to the Italian judge.

There’s even more to think about. We use the terms “author”, “publisher” and “distributor” and “service provider” loosely in various business contexts. In the motion picture business, the “distributor” usually owns most of the rights and remains the most answerable to potential legal liabilities. (Think how the anti-piracy debate is going.) If there is something really “wrong” with a particular movie, it’s the studio-distributor who is most responsible, not the theater. In the book world, the “author” and “publisher” hold most of the trumps and responsibilities; Ingram and Amazon are in a sense distributors but don’t figure into the rights v. responsibilities debate much (neither then does Wal-Mart). But the Internet has made this question even more complicated. But common sense tells me, if I make an two-hour-long feature film, post it on YouTube and create a legal controversy, the rights and responsibilities are really mine, not YouTube or its executives. I would be playing the role of Fox or WB, not YouTube.

But what is really most bothersome about the Italian ruling is the apparent attitude of the judge, that “user generated content” really isn’t morally legitimate or deserving of protection, and that all content should be reviewed by third parties if it is to be released into the wild. Indeed, until perhaps the early or mid 1990s (certainly before the public Internet era as we know it), that was how it generally was with book publishing. "Getting published" used to be a real honor. Subsidy publishing (or vanity publishing) had existed for decades but had always been very expensive and offered limited rights. The cost started to come down in the 1990s with desktop publishing and more efficient book manufacturing, and then print-on-demand. In fact, it would seem that the judge’s ruling, if it indirectly applied everywhere, including the United States, would threaten print-on-demand too.

All of this brings be back to a “social contract” issue. Even in American law, it’s not completely clear that “self-distribution” is a “fundamental right” as it is a somewhat separate concept from freedom from censorship of speech that has “legitimate” distribution. The issue was somewhat skirted by the 2006 COPA trial. Nevertheless, American law is more likely to be constitutionally protective of such a right (to UGC) simply because American law, with a short constitution and amendments and evolved “Bill of Rights”, is “dense” (topologically) when compared to European law, which depends on so many diffuse (English and Roman) legal traditions. But many people are becoming less sympathetic to unregulated “self-promotion” when it isn’t connected to responsibility for other people. That may be the biggest issue down the road.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Students get suspended for off-campus Internet speech from their own home computers!

There have occurred apparently numerous instances where students have been suspended from public schools for comments (often about teachers) online (especially on social networking sites like Facebook) from their own computer at home.

A student in Oak Forest High School in Oak Forest IL was suspended for creating a Facebook “fan page” criticizing a particular teacher and apparently calling the teacher names. State KARE in Minneapolis has the most recent story here. Parents want the suspension expunged and the ACLU says they may have a First Amendment case, but school officials want the student to take an anger management course.

And the New York Times has a February 15 story by Carmen Gentile indicating that a federal judge has ruled that a south Florida (Pembroke Pines Charter High School) student can proceed with a lawsuit after a principal suspended her for criticizing a teacher on Facebook. The link is here.

Rich Phillips, CNN Senior Producer, also has a similar story here.

And Amy Cowman has a story for the Fox television station in Memphis TN about a student suspended for 180 days for something he wrote about another student on his home computer, link here.

This blog discusses a case from Indiana in an Oct. 31 posting.

And obvious and related issue would be suspending or firing teachers, when they are public employees, for off-the-job Internet postings from home. I had an issue as substitute teacher in October 2005 which I discuss in great detail on this blog with the July 27, 2007 posting. (Subs are not as likely to be searched from home or made the "targets" of websites as regular teachers, but I know that I must have been on a particular school's radar screen before I took the Oct. 2005 assignment.) Anyone concerned about these cases is encouraged to read that posting in detail. I do welcome comments on the legal or ethical questions, and can respond by email in private if someone involved in one of these new cases wants more of a perspective.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Privacy and email communications: there is a mix of cases now: our expectations become a 4th amendment question

In the March 2010 issue of PC-World, Erik Larkin has a perceptive article “Will cloud computing kill privacy?” of which there are many copies on the web, such as here.

Erik points to a district court ruling from Oregon last summer, in a case called generically “In re: United States” in which a particular judge Mosman ruled that the government does not have to provide a copy of a warrant to the Internet user to read all of its emails on a server, because the server is essentially not part of one’s “home”. A PDF copy of the opinion is available at WSJ here.

Andrew Dat has a sarcastic lawblog entry on this from Nov. 2, 2009, “E-mail: It’s fast, easy, and now unprotected from unlawful searches” (under the 4th Amendment) here.

There is plenty of other activity. There was a complicated case in Ohio, Warshak v. United States, well documented by Volokh here.

On Nov. 2, 2009, Jennifer Granlick at EFF discussed Warshak in comparison to United States v. Cioffi (in New York), where apparently the court agreed that the search could be limited to items related to an alleged infraction of law, link here.

We come back to the conceptual question about what we expect in privacy. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a CNBC interview “if you have something you don’t want anybody to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place?” (YouTube excerpt from CNBC here: (Also check the Huffington Post, Dec. 7, 2009, here, for story on remark).

That stirred the pot. The remark doesn’t work for medical data, or for someone in the US Military hunted down by “don’t ask don’t tell”.

In my case, I am public about broader things that I engaged – including events that affected me (such as being thrown out of school for being gay in 1961) and “causes” that I engaged – such as overturning “don’t ask don’t tell” or COPA. Some people feel that this has an effect on others – such as family members – I am drawing attention to the fact that I don’t provide for other people in a “conventional” way. On the other hand, I jealousy guard personal privacy at home, in a personal sense. I don’t want anyone going through my stuff. And I’m careful about items that could create security threats or identity theft. By the way, a moderately well-known person is not as convenient a target for identity theft as a totally private person, so privacy works both ways. And someone with computer and web skills can easily keep an eye on things

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Has "meritocracy" come to its endpoint?

I noticed the column “The Power Elite” in the New York Times yesterday by David Brooks, link here.

Brooks talks about meritocracy, the “John Stossel” type, which in the past few decades has become increasingly individualized. In the more distant past, we had a “good old boy” network, to be sure; but there was a kind of social stability that resulted and an ability to think long term. Furthermore, as Brooks points out, there was some social complementarity. One particular quote caught my eye: “.” But if you ran the largest bank in Murfreesboro, Tenn., you probably lived in Murfreesboro. Now you live in Charlotte or New York City. You might have married a secretary. Now you marry another banker. You would have had similar lifestyle habits as other people in town. Now the lifestyle patterns of the college-educated are very different from the patterns in other classes.” Remember how Charles A. Reich had criticized the concept of meritocracy in his 1970 book "The Greening of America." I guess we're really deep into "Consciousness II".

In my own mind, this connects up to the discussions about “sustainability” and “generativity” cropping up on both the right and left, partly because of the non-individual nature of today’s biggest problems. We could indeed be headed back toward a world where “generativity” is a moral requirement of everyone, as compelling as “personal responsibility” in a libertarian sense has been for the past twenty years or so. That puts someone who cannot “interest” someone else in a mate capable or taking care of a whole family into a second-class citizen. (I have to pick words moderately here—remember the "Old Maid" scene from "Gone with the Wind" --but ponder how this drives a lot of generally socially acceptable fantasy among people who have no responsibility for others—the old “existential trap”, again.) Of course, however, Brooks would point out that there is something inherently flawed about a style of thinking so obsessed with assessing individual karma and “measuring people”, like kids in school getting grades from teachers. During my own “coming of age” draft deferments were based on how young men “competed” . The psychological and familial socialism of traditional Christianity does have a moral point.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Confusion growing over journalistic music blogs; some blogs taken down for alleged infringement; rules seem murky!

Tim Jones has a disturbing report on Electronic Frontier Foundation about what he calls “music blogicide.” The title of the story, Feb. 16, is “Music Journalism Is the New Piracy,” link here.

Ars Technica has a detailed story by Nate Anderson about the problem, “The day the music blogs died”, link here.

Both pieces discuss the IFPI, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) as probably providing the mechanism for multiple takedown notices. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, in a story by John Soeder, detailed (on Feb. 10) the shutdown of a blog belonging to “I Rock Cleveland,” story here.

Blogger has posted “a quick note about music blog removals” which does bear careful reading. The link is here.

Apparently, sometimes just individual posts are set to draft status. But Blogger notes that misunderstandings do occur and that bloggers may have to contest takedown notices if they know their content is lawful. Blogger also sends the notices to Chilling Effects for others to review.

An example of a music blog that has been restored is Massasla, here.

The EFF story suggests that blogs focusing on reviewing new music have been shut down,. On closer examination, it seems as though the blogs did include mp3 or other video files that someone could have construed as copyright infringement. (The EFF article also mentioned mere links.) But there has even been a case where a blog from a promotional group authorized by the artists was taken down. Promotional and enforcement teams often don’t communicate too well.

The EFF article includes links to guides relating to YouTube takedowns, and general rules regarding trademark and copyright infringement., particularly in parody or criticism sites aimed at one particular company. It’s a little hard for me to believe that a blog post critical of a named company could ever be construed as committing “prospective trademark dilution”; see my trademark blog, June 2007, for the affirmative defense.

It’s natural to wonder if the same problem would exist for movie review blogs. I have wondered about embedding code from YouTube, particularly movie trailers. Now, some movie studios or production companies offer trailers with embed code, so clearly these can be used. Sometimes these companies post trailers under their own name on YouTube, and I have used these. I generally don’t post YouTube embeds from videos that don’t appear authorized by the company or a legitimate source, or that seem to be repeats of commercial broadcast material. Sometimes I can find other material related to the movie but not from the movie, such as an interview posted by the author of the book upon which the movie is based. Producers or distributors of small indie films are more likely to offer embeddable trailers than major studios, although it’s not always the case.

I often post pictures on my blogs, and if I did not take them myself, I give the source (as far as I can determine, usually most Wikipedia pictures are OK for use if attribution is given; many are stated as already in the public domain). I do not take pictures from the movies themselves, as this is illegal (people have been prosecuted for camcording in movie theaters!) ; I post pictures of my own with subject matter related to the movie.

Movie buffs who pay attention to end credits notice that professional films are very fastidious about getting permission and posting credit for even the smallest musical excerpts or the smallest excerpts from other films.

I am interested in making a film myself about some of the happenings covered on these blogs, so all of this is of great interest to me.

Update: Feb. 20, 2010

I found this op-ed on the New York Times site by Damian Kulash, Jr. from Australia, "Whose Tube", link here. EMI and perhaps other record companies have disabled embedding of videos by bloggers because supposedly they aren't making any money off them. Kulash shows how disabling embedding will result in fewer views (because you have to go to YouTube) and will probably cause record companies to lose revenue. The music companies "don't get it" and are self-destructing, hurting new artists.

I have very recently noticed that some emebddable videos do themselves feature ad banners. This may help inspire a productive new model for YouTube videos to make the content owners some money when the videos are then embedded.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Well, maybe I'm an abductee now: what it's like on another habitable planet with a civilization

Well, it’s the height of conceit to shout “I have a dream,” perhaps. But last night, I had, perhaps, a visitation.

I thought I was in a strange community of bed and breakfasts, a campus of little brick-like buildings surrounded by lush purplish and bluish vegetation, in a damp, moist climate with outdoor temperatures about like those of spring in Britain. The sky was greenish yellow. We (mostly middle aged and older people, among younger staff) were living in group homes and not allowed to go to the “City” without permission.

I asked a particularly tall man where we were, and he confirmed my suspicion. “You’re on another planet.” It was not possible to tell from appearance who was from Earth and who was local.

To get to the City, you eventually got on a tram that took you into the forest, under a hill through a tunnel, and into an underground shopping mall. We were told that the outdoors looked a bit like Dubai, but I had trouble walking up into the sunlight. It seemed that gravity had increased when we got to the city.

The dream started after 3 AM and I woke up at 7:30 AM, my heart racing. Maybe this was dangerous; maybe it was REM sleep. When you are falling asleep or waking up, sometimes your brain gets separate from your ability to move, and you feel temporarily paralyzed. That’s normal. But as for the content of the dream, we know that many habitable planets are likely to be near smaller stars, called M stars, and it’s likely the colors other than green would dominate photosynthetic plants, because the spectral distribution of light from the star would be different. It’s also possible that many such planets would have very slow rotation periods, and maybe constantly face the same side toward their “sun”.

Somewhere the word “weakless” came out in the dream, and in one sequence I was substitute teaching in a chemistry class in one of the family group homes. It seemed that this world didn’t have the weak force, so there were no heavy elements above iron (and no nuclear weapons); habitable planets were near their suns, which had to be small. Inhabitants thought they were better off. Humans from a universe with the weak force could get here through a black hole, but supposedly humans brought up on this alternative universe couldn’t survive on Earth, with very few exceptions – “the ‘gods’”.

There were no electronics in the home and no Internet. Instead, there was an organic grid supporting telepathy, much as in the movie “Avatar”. Thoughts and feelings could not remain private any more that Facebook profiles could on Earth.

Maybe the dream was influenced by Clive Barker’s 1991 novel Imajica, and the area resembled the Fourth Dominion, with the city being Patashoqua. (Sounds like it should be the name of a town in upstate New York to me.) The navigation of a black hole is given the name "reconciliation" in the novel; one crosses the "In Ovo" to go to other parallel universes based on unseen dimensions (as described by physics in string theory).

This dream was one of the most vivid in my life. It convinced me “the truth is out there.” I just don’t believe you can be abducted from your own bedroom and returned so quickly.

Actually, now that I think about it, the place seems like a temperate version of Singapore, probably with an authoritarian culture. Democracy with individual rights as we know the concept is likely to be quite rare among civilizations across the universe(s). It takes a lot of socialization for a culture to be stable.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA chart on planetsizes, here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is the "free content" and "free entry" model for the Web "destroying society"? Are corporations the new parasites? (AlterNet, of course!)

Chris Hedges has an “interesting” AlterNet essay this morning, with the long title “Are Corporations Using the Internet to Accelerate Our Cultural, Political and Economic Decline?: Maybe the internet isn't the panacea it's made out to be -- Hedges argues it has been hijacked by corporate interests and it's destroying our society. “

Hedges talks about how the big “evil” corporations make enormous profits out of aggregating the “free content” posted by amateurs under “free entry systems” by matching the free content up with ads, often by using tracking software on users’ computers. (I use Webroot spysweeper to clean off the most intrusive of that software.) He says that “legitimate” authors and journalists and artists find it harder to make a living because of the free competition. The link is here.

Actually, he’s lifting his arguments from a controversial new book “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto” (Knopf) by Jaron Lanier (which he mentions). Yup, I plan to order the book and review it myself soon.

But, truth to tell, legitimate journalists and artists have always had it tough. People were saying this at the end of the 1980s, during the Michael Douglas “Wall Street” era, before the Internet was even unleashed. I think the Internet has changed what the opportunities are, however.

Hedges also says that the Internet has become a forum for venting hatred among opposing camps (sometimes it is, given jihadist and extremist websites). Other reviewers of Lanier have noted the novelty of the “online reputation” problem, because employers (and “consumers”) don’t know how to judge the “information” about people that they can find so easily now from search engines (and they don’t know how easy it is to nab the wrong people).

Socially, Hedges (and apparently Lanier) may have a point. A lot of people (the adults and the kids both) don't appreciate "people as people" the way they once did. The media had been pushing fantasy images on television long before the Internet came along. (I remember in the 1950s middle school teachers said, "Read, don't watch television!) And it seems that the desire of some employers to monopolize their associates' online presence could force a new wave of social conformity. The inventors of social networking sites never envisioned this, nor the use of search engines as a "background investigation" tool. n

What to do? Right now, for me, keep on writing. (Oh, no!)

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's not a "request", it's a "rule"!

I recall a memo to residents at a highrise Minneapolis apartment, regarding the heating system, where hot water pipes were situated near the outside walls and the sliding glass doors leading to balconies. “When the outside temperature is less than 32 degrees, the glass door must be closed. This is not a request, this is a rule.”

We hear about the concept of “rules” in a lot of contexts. Competitive sports are predicated on seemingly inflexible rules. But in baseball, home teams get to male “ground rules”, the most notable example being that home teams determine the home run dimensions of the outfields. Does that make home run statistics less meaningful? Is a record set in Boston’s Fenway or Houston’s Minute Maid less impressive than in Detroit’s Commercia Park or Denver’s Mile High? More seriously, does the use of performance enhancing drugs make statistics meaningless. Look how strict most sports (including the Olympics) have gotten about performance enhancing substances.

Football also provides some quandaries about the consistency of rules. In pro football, replays (and penalties) focus on the finepoints about the rules of pigskin possession, which often are changed each season. But more important, major rule changes occur sometimes. About three decades ago, pro football moved back the goal posts to make field goals the same as in college, and then adopted the two-point conversion.

So it is with “society”. The libertarian notion is that the free market – along with freedom to contract and the obligation to honor contracts – makes the “rules”. But in time moralists start becoming concerned about the less tangible aspects of morality. Assuming that we generally recognize a notion like “station in life”, we become concerned that some people benefit from the unseen “sacrifices” of others, or that some people start out “ahead in line” of others. Now the free market does tend to provide some adjustments of its own. Every recession (back to the 1970s has come up with implorations that people learn to do “grunt work” (even Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (New York, Ballantine, 1974 (with a chapter "The New Poor"). We could say that there exists a “free market cultural revolution” with every economic downturn.

Nevertheless, a lot of our politics has to do with macro redistribution of wealth, most notably through the IRS. Or, look at the health care reform debate, where the healthy must accept the responsibility for paying for the care of the sick. Or the emerging eldercare issue, as an outgrowth of “demographic winter”. All of these issues lead to the propagation of rules, having to do with how obligations beyond the scope of one’s own choices will be shared. Of course, they get politicized. They lead to bureaucracies and power structures that can become abusive.

During my own coming of age, particularly up to the early or mid 60s, the idea of shared responsibiliity was much more “personal”. Male-only conscription, with the skewed unfairness of deferments, became one notorious example of compulsory obligations. But all of this leads back further, to the way we were socialized: men and women had different jobs and obligations toward one another, within the family unit, and these obligations clearly existed even before one made the “choice” to engage in behavior that could bring more children into the world. The general philosophy could be called "pay your dues", and it's essential to eliminate "double standards".

"Rules" like this can affect the modern workplace. Many jobs require people to be available to be on-call without direct compensation. Pretty soon there will be tensions over who makes the sacrifice: those without kids?

Indeed, a lot of people saw the “rules” of sexual morality as “absolute” and as dictated by the scriptures of their religious backgrounds, often designed around preserving a "people" as a whole rather than protecting equal rights for individuals. There was a general feeling that if one followed these “rules”, one could in some sense earn one’s station in life, and that gross inequalities (regarding race, religion, nationality, even gender) were the responsibility of political leaders but not of individuals leading their daily lives. What was even more important for many people was that “rules” seemed to give meaning to marital or sexual commitment, and gave married people a reason to keep their passions for one another “in sickness and in health”, etc. If the same rules of morality had to be followed by everyone, then the relationships that mattered became worthy of real passion. But the “rules” affected people who never even got far enough in the process to marry and have children; they might have their own special talents, but they could he held hostage to the heads of families, who could keep them at their disposal to meet other family needs. Open "rebellion", perhaps motivated by different emotional wiring or problems with competing, could be seen as undermining the stability of others in the family. For people living outside the intimacy of close relationships, the “rules” still mattered: they still conferred a context of meaning to all accomplishments. The inflexibility of this moral thinking led to some troubling contradictions: a sacrifice, caused by meeting someone else’s needs, was still a sacrifice, part of one's own individual karma, which sometimes is shared with others (especially family).

Christianity may have a heads up on the other Abrahamaic faiths in dealing with this: generally, Christianity accepts the fact that people are unequal, and need to find identification not just in their own choices, but meaning in their families, communities, and sense of grace. Christian theology has always seemed to incorporate a certain psychological socialism, within the family unit and surrounding community. It allows some individuals to excel -- as individuals, but only when they have learned to meet the real needs of others, which always exist regardless of “choices” that one has made.

So, society still debates its rules of engagement. "Sustainability" could again become as compelling a moral driver as harmlessness or fidelity to contracts. It seems to be migrating back from just responsibility for the consequences of personal "choice" toward a belief that everyone will have some responsibility for generativity, an organic stake in the future -- for being able to take care of others of other generations, before one has enough "station in life" to be heard from. If this sort of moral mindset drives the formation of new "rules" or even laws, it could get disastrous. But it ponders, for example, whether same-sex marriage can impart the sense of family that does take care of people (not just dependent children) and keep society stable. If it can, it may prove that we can have our cake and eat it too: enjoy more creativity, but taking the edge off of hyper-competitiveness that puts so many people down. Our “rules of engagement” may keep changing, but they are still “rules.”

Picture: despite the snow superstorms, it's almost time for baseball. The Nats are supposed to be better this year! They won the last seven games of 2009, including a four-game sweep on the road in Atlanta.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A dichotomy in what it means to be respected

I’ve noticed a curious dichotomy in “expectations” of people. For me, one of the most upsetting events can occur if someone else does not “respect” my need for freedom, and creates a situation demanding sacrifice (as I would experience it) without even thinking about the impact on me. But I’ve noticed that a lot of people are wired very differently. They expect formal demonstrations of respect, in a social or familial sense. I would never expect someone to “respect” my “authority”, just my freedom. (That became a problem, with classroom management and discipline, when I was substitute teaching; see July 25, 2007 on this blog.) I would never expect someone to prove that he or she “loves” me with some show of respect. But I find others don’t follow my pattern, to say the least. Visit my book review blog today for more.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"First Sale" doctrine in copyright law will be litigated

Here’s an important but brief piece on the “first sale” doctrine (or "exhaustion") as applied to copyright law, in the digital age, by Fred von Lohmann at Electronic Frontier Foundation. Namely, “you bought it, you own it,” with link here.

One of the landmark cases will be Verner v. Autodesk. The case arose when Timothy Verner tried to sell four copies of AutoCAD software on Ebay, whereupon Autodesk sued, saying that the software is licensed, never sold.

There are other cases, such as one involving permitting “jailbreaking.”

We get back to the whole idea of copy protection, and the raging and unending debate about the DMCA. When I collected phonograph records, I sometimes made cassette copies for my own use, to prevent wear. That would seem to be permissible then, but it’s pretty much impossible today with DVD’s. A company could conceivably argue that even if the original wears out (like if a CD deteriorates over a few decades, as we are finding out now that they can) you have to pay for a replacement, just like you would your car.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Football, our favorite sport, is sending retired players into dementia: a moral problem; make it safer! (Almost a favorite sport!)

The Feb. 8 Time Magazine issue has a scathing cover about football “The Most Dangerous Game”, with a reference to a famous short story (by Richard Connell) popular with English teachers (along with the 1931 movie), about an island terrorist and using “brains over brawn” to escape. The story was the subject matter of the lesson plan when I had my “incident” regarding my own website, discussed here July 27, 2007.

But the long article "The Problem with Football: How to Make It Safer"), by Sean Gregory, link here discusses the graduation deterioration of retired pro football players due to repeated minor concussions. There is medical discussion of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The article goes into football culture and makes some constructive suggestions for rule changes and some high-tech suggestions for equipment design. (I don’t think they would go for my idea of a “1 point” play: give a punting team one point for a toucnback in the end zone; you could have a football game end 1-0). There are a couple of bare-chested pictures of veteran football players that are not all that flattering. As it stands, our favorite glamour sport is producing middle aged men who are much more likely to slide into dementia and need care in old age.

Time offers this YouTube video (by Gregory) on your brain and contact sports injuries.

The Time issue also discusses the culture of high school football, especially in Texas, where some spinal chord injuries and lifetime paralysis of unfortunate teen young men does not change the macho culture.

We have already had the national discussion about boxing head injuries and gradual cognitive deterioration -- again, an outgrowth of machismo. (Yet -- remember the "Rocky" movies, and even "Cinderella Man". Boxing supported families!) Can boxing be made safer, when the object is a knockout?

I recall that when I was in third grade and I was a Cub Scout, they made us play football one Saturday. I hated it. What sense did it make for boys to expose themselves to contact and getting hurt, I wondered. See my attitude? I’ve covered it before. Maybe it was touch football. In junior and senior high school, the first sport in the fall in gym class was always touch football.

Baseball makes a lot more sense. There is the physics of the batted ball, hooking or slicing, hitting the outfield wall and bouncing back. There is the geometry lesson of the design of a stadium. That’s always appealed to me.

The Super Bowl just finished. It punctuated the two East Coast blizzards. Spring training for baseball is about to start.

Wikipedia attribution link for Vince Lombard trophy.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

As a "physical" winter storm approaches: how "hardened" is my digital life?

With a (back-to-back) winter storm approaching, and the possibility of power outages, conceivably prolonged, one wonders how well various electronics would fare.

An article by Catherine Roseberry at states that the acceptable range for laptop use is about 50 degrees F to 95 degrees F. Most well insulated homes will not go below 50 F for a long time (at least on upper floors) unless it is extremely cold outside during the outage. In the summer, during a heat wave, indoor temperature could go up quickly; the basement will be the coolest place. The link is here.

Note the tip about not leaving the laptop in direct sunlight or in a hot car when traveling. Remember, even if it is only 60 degrees in March outside, in a locked closed car it will warm up quickly.

She also recommends laptop stands to dissipate internal heat. I’ve never heard this before.

If you go to stay with someone during an outage or go to a hotel, remember to pack everything: laptop battery charger, Blackberry connector, and Blackberry charger. Use a subscription wireless service (Verizon, etc) rather than a free service for maximum security.

A quick search of Dell’s website (link) found a server with recommended operating temperature the same (50 F to 95 F) and a permissible storage temperature that surprised me: -40 F to +149 F (like maybe it could have to be stored on another planet some day).

All this suggests that most electronics can stand long time temperature changes (moisture is another matter), but should be recooled or rewarmed very gradually before reuse. Some offices allow air conditioning or heat to be turned off on weekends, which means that on Monday mornings computer might be brought up in more extreme temperatures, which is not good.

Since many of us have invested in compact disc collections over the years (since the late 1980s) proper storage and care becomes an issue. We’re gradually finding out that they don’t necessarily last forever. The foam padding and program notes could sometimes cause damage over long periods of time. In some CD’s, the aluminum oxide coating may tend to oxidize. One site (link) says that they should be stored at temperature 50 to 68 F with 40-50 % RH, but in many homes temperature and humidity gets higher in the summer. People with very large collections of classical music could consider taking care of their old vinyl; wear is less of an issue with albums that as a practical matter aren’t played often. If stored upright in original sleeves, temperature is probably not as big an issue with analog media.

More and more classical music is being offered as MP3 albums to be downloaded “legally” sometimes at lower prices than CD’s. One advantage for this method is that the files could be backed up offsite (Mozy, Carbonite, Webroot, etc), offering protection from physical destruction, either by natural disaster or theft.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Texas nurse prosecuted for "offline" reputation damage

Here’s a disturbing story about reputation defense – even “off line”. A nurse in Texas faces state prosecution for malicious damaging of doctor’s reputation for writing a letter about him to state regulators. The official felony charge is “misuse of official information”.

It would appear that state whistleblower laws would have protected her from a civil suit.

The New York Times story from Feb. 6 is by Kevin Sack, is titled “Nurse to stand trial for reporting doctor”, with link here.

The “obvious” question is what could have happened had the disclosure appeared in a public blog.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Is there something "wrong" with the idea "you can make it on your own"?

“No man is an island,” John Donne wrote. Yet, the heart of individualism seems to consist of autonomous independence. Modern society gives you the impression you can do everything for yourself and not need others until you want to. It even provides the legal structures.

If you don’t want to have everything you own destroyed by circumstances beyond your control, you get picky about where you live. The safest place would be a modern, secure high rise building in a major city. Generally single family homes are much more vulnerable. But you’d have to stay away from earthquake zones (and wonder about areas where major earthquakes occur every 500 years or so, like New Madrid, or even some areas of the East Coast, even). You’d stay away from coastal areas prone to hurricanes, or from Midwestern river basins, which can flood much more than we realized before. In California, you’d watch for mudslide prone areas, wildfire exposure, and irrigation canal flooding.

Indeed, there are some hazards that we’ve never experienced, like the Yellowstone or Mono Lake supervolcanoes (dwarfing Mt. St. Helens), or a huge East Coast tsunami from a collapse of the Cumbra Vieja volcano and landslide on the other side of the pond.

Of course, there is terrorism – starting with New York and Washington, but probably expanding to softer targets, and more subtle hazards we haven’t thought about much, like EMP or electromagnetic pulse attacks. There exist plenty of unwelcome paths toward “the purification”.

The Internet has offered a lot of us the chance at self-promotion, and with all the cyber dangers, privately run security is much more robust than anyone could have imagined fifteen years ago. That point, at least, supports the libertarian approach to all this.

In fact, there are new tools to protect “what you have” – buy it all digitally (by recordings legally as MP3 files rather than on CD’s) and back it up off site with Mozy, Webroot or Carbonite.

When we get into the “moral” questions, we wonder if “independence” is a phantom. You depend on people who do things you don’t see and wouldn’t want to do – and sometimes political moralists see this as exploitative.

So then the “natural family” arugments come at you: belonging to a family unit and giving it loyalty becomes a moral duty. That’s why parents disrupt even talented kids and make them join in things they don’t want to do. When I was a boy, I simply wanted to avoid competitive scenarios that I was not good at, and pick and follow my goals – and people would come back and say that when I expressed myself or drew attention I was getting back at them, stepping on their toes, or kibitzing, As an adult, do you really have a right to commit yourself to love only when you choose to? It becomes a profound moral question about our humanity. Christianity, especially, deals with the idea that people need to accept interdependence with some moral flexibility; other religions often deal with this need by imposing strict rules on how the family must work.

Still, if we wound up with a world like in the movies “The Road” or “The Book of Eli” or even “Legion”, I don’t think I would have anything to offer. Don’t let it happen.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Snow! How to watch the power outages (from a laptop, with wireless)

I grew up in Arlington VA, and I do recall some memorable nor’easters, including Inauguration day in 1961, the Blizzard of 66, the March 1993 Blizzard (for about two hours, the most violent I have ever seen here), the 1996 blizzards (January 6-8, and a similar storm Feb. 6 went about 50 miles further south and pounded southern Md and Tidewater VA), the Dec 2009 blizzard, and not snowpocalypse today. Is this “The Day After Tomorrow”?

The Weather channel predicts a wintry mix until 2 AM, with heavy accumulations not starting until then, whereas Doug Hill at WJLA says that will stay further south, and the real heavy accumulations and thunderstorms with snow will start around 10 PM. So far, it’s about 4 inches. Not that much. But other areas have about 8 already. Hardest hit will be the Blue Ridge, and then Annapolis East, across the Delmarva to Deleware and extreme southern New Jersey. Rehoboth Beach could wind up with the full three feet accumulations jackpot.

The greatest danger is long power outages, if they overwhelm the system after unexpected freezing rain or heavy wet snow sticking to trees and power lines. That’s not good in the winter. They say laptop computers are OK down to 50 deg. F. But right here, by my observation, the snow is already turning finer and drier. Hopefully we’ve dodged the worst. We got a break in the middle of the day when the streets were too warm for the snow to stick for a few hours.

You can follow the Dominion Power outgages on this map. The power outages in northern VA have increased markedly since 7 PM, and there were some around Charlottesville. There is a large outage around Great Falls, VA according to the map (one of the worst areas for overgrown trees). Virginia may be spared somewhat because a lot of the weakest trees were "sacrificed" in 2003 to Hurricane Isabel, which caused enormous disuption with only 40 mph winds sustained for 12 hours. Dominion Power whined that Isabel tore through the region like a "giant washing machine."

My experience was that both Dallas and Minneapolis had much more stable power grids (than the DC area) when I lived there. It makes sense -- fewer trees. I know a little bit about the utilities in Dallas because of a job interview one time with the utilites (and a visit to a nuclear power plan in Glen Rose).

Are these bigger storms the result of climate change? Maybe. I’ve never heard of an El Nino that increased snow. But the biggest snows here result when high pressure to the north dams cold air against up the mountains, and drives the low pressure systems to the south and east, often resulting in even heavier show in Richmond and even down to Williamsburg. With Appalachian cold air damming, low pressure systems tend to “jump” to the Atlantic (potentially tapping on the Gulf Stream for energy) rather than go up the Ohio valley (as they tend to do earlier in the winter). This kind of pattern is more common in late winter, in February and early March, which is why in many years the biggest snows come late here. February, not January, is usually the worst month hear and typically has the annual low.

I spent six years in Minneapolis, 1997-2003, and the biggest snows were in late February 2001 (when Watertown SD got 32 inches), and March 2002. Typically a “Southern” storm like this happens there once a year, around the first day of spring. But most of their snows were small and dry clippers, and caused little trouble. It’s ironic to have bigger snows here, in a milder climate.

Update: 9:30 PM (while Smallville plays "Absolute Justice", a fantasy of Chairman Mao). The Bing weather channel map shows that the freezing rain reached almost to Alexandria around 8:30 PM and then got pushed back south by a "cold front". There appears to be strong avection and lift and thunderstorm activity along I-64 SE of Charlottesville, which may explain the outages there. The "cold front" will keep pushing south toward Richmond.

The wind is picking up, about 20 mph, almost due east. The wind is helping blow some snow off the tree limbs and lines. That may be good. Hopefully the snow will become drier and fluffier pretty soon is the "cold front" is passing.

Bing shows a lot of freezing rain in the valleys of the Ridge and Valley Province in W Va, just east of the Eastern Continental Divide. That sounds like big trouble for power companies there. This time, it's colder in the East and warmer in the mountains, if that make any sense, with cold air damming.

Update: Feb. 7

(New)  Four Seasons Snow removal.

See also, Issues blog, Oct. 30, 2011.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Are the days of a "multiple life" on the Web over? Social media changed everything!

Can you lead a double life on the Web?

Well, of course, many people live in multiplicity, with different profiles on Facebook or Myspace, and in Second Life and other VR experiences.

But in my case, the notion took on a narrower meaning. Back in the early 1990s, because of personal history that I have documented elsewhere, I became interested in research and writing about the issues surrounding Bill Clinton’s proposal to lift the ban on gays in the military, which would lead to the notorious “don’t ask don’t tell” policy being codified into law in 1993. I was working for a life insurance company that specialized, in part, in selling to military officers. I felt that I had a potential conflict of interest and ethical dilemma.

The potential problem would be partially resolved by a corporate merger and my transferring to another division of the new company and moving from northern Virginia to Minneapolis in 1997, leading to some of the best years of my life. I wrote and self-published the book in 1997, eventually buttressed it with a print-on-demand arrangement in 2000, but in the mean time put the book text, with a lot of running footnotes and extra supplementary material, on the Web (the site was then; it is now, along with all the blogs). I found that the political issue was the kernel of something much bigger, that “DADT” a paradigm for our social and professional behavior in many areas of life. I became concerned with “connecting the dots”, and the material expanded so much that after 9/11 I actually attracted a few tips that were shared with law enforcement.

One of the points that came up with the company is that I did not have direct reports and that I did not make any decisions about customers or stakeholders. Therefore, I could say in public pretty much what I wanted without causing a conflict, as long as I didn’t betray any actual confidences. I was an “individual contributor” in the workplace. I began to perceive my worklife as a double one: my salaried job as part of it, and my web stuff as separate and as “mine”.

That view made sense in the late 1990s, perhaps, as people developed their own flat sites and discovered that search engines would give them “fame”. But with the development of social networking sites in 2004 and later, the perception started to change. Employers realized they could use what people wrote online (or what others wrote about them) as “background check” information (however unreliably). Employers could fear that clients could easily check up on their professional consultants. (Hence the new industry of online reputation defense and repair.) Furthermore, social media facilitated the process of selling, so many jobs required that people use their online presence for the benefit of their employers, not to propagate their own views on things.

In the past two or three years, job counselors have been talking more about setting up an integrated web presence to facilitate one’s career, with Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and blogs, but about professional topics only, please. The days of the double life are over. I guess, however, that I can claim that my professional identity is “connecting the dots”. Too bad, my early life would have kept me out of the CIA.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

FTC holds roundtable on digital privacy; concern over the "one-way-mirror" world

The Federal Trade Commission held a roundtable last week (Jan. 28) on privacy in the digital age, sponsored by the University of California law school. The San Francisco Chronicle has an important story by James Temple, “All eyes on online privacy,” link here.

A lot of this has to do with potentiality (a concept that at one time high school teachers graded us on!) Cell phones, car GPS, wireless laptops, all kinds of devices would allow someone with “bad education” and stalking intentions to track someone, and companies are increasingly sophisticated in their ability to monitor and analyze the browsing habits of Internet visitors.

There is controversy as to whether younger adults really are willing to share more information online than were members of their parents’ generations.

Pam Dixon, of the World Privacy Forum, has urged adoption of a measure requiring that Internet marketing companies delete user information within 24 hours. The WPC presented a report “The One-Way-Mirror Society: Privacy Implications of the New Digital Signage Networks”, link here.

It’s important, however, to remember that the “free entry” model that enables not only social media as we have gotten used to since 2005 but also older forms of self-publishing around since the late 1990s, depends ultimately on effective advertising, and a willingness of consumers to have items of greatest potential interest shown to them. (These days, I seem to get a lot of ads from Netflix. I suppose that’s because of behavioral advertising.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

A "Modest" (and dangerous) "thought experiment": the return of the Natural Family?

Here’s another “modest” thought experiment. Suppose we change the constitution so that only heads of households with dependents vote. The “patriarch” (or maybe matriarch) would get as many votes counted as there are people in his family, as long as everyone else was dependent. Okay, single adults might be allowed to have their votes count as one until age 30; then they would have to have dependents. Elderly parents or disabled adults would count as dependents. There would be no public safety net; families would take care of their own completely.

Perhaps the thought experiment goes further. You don’t have your own Internet site unless you have dependents (that is “responsibility”). You can’t even have a mortgage. And so on. Perhaps these are the "rules of engagement" on Pandora, or other planets 30 or 40 light years away with advanced civilziations. Authoritarian and communitarian social systems are probably pretty common throughout the universe. Oh, yeah, these systems invite feudalism, slavery, all kinds of macro abuses -- but they are "stable" -- families take care of their own.

There is a certain component of our culture that would like to see things work that way, in practice and beyond the realms of sophistry. The logical endpoint of the “natural family manifesto” that I reviewed in the books blog (Sept. 18, 2009) (book by Allan Carlson and Paul Mero).

The “natural family” movement regards the family as the granularity of society, not the individual. Within the family, individuals are supposed to function only for the mutual benefit of the family, according almost to the Marxist motto about abilities and needs. But all this originates with the “natural” complementarity of men and women that used to be much more evident and essential than it seems today. In earlier eras, men really did have to “protect” women and children from external physical threats (at least much more than in Western society today), and men took considerable risk in doing so (as in military service). Women bore their own risk in childbearing, which is one reason why being “protected” was so essential. Today, we know that gender equality and interchangeability is evident (and viewed as socially and politically essential), because technology and higher standards of living have made this possible.

However, the “family” also accomplished a more subtle purpose: mediating and directing the emotional commitments among its members. As in Rosie O’Donnell’s recent HBO film (my TV blog Jan. 31), a family consists of people, not always blood related or based on opposite-sex marriage, where “love goes all the way”. It’s the parents who have both the power and responsibility to socialize their children into experiencing this kind of love, which extends into adulthood and which is supposed to make their children’s commitments to their own marriages possible (but the idea that it accounts for transmitting heterosexual complementarity is very questionable, to say the least, given increasing evidence of the immutability of sexual orientation). Yup, parents have the power to nudge their kids into learning to love the people who need to be loved -- to make emotional attachments based on complementarity rather than narcissistic reflection. Within the family, the love is supposed to mean that the family members put the welfare of others in the family, based on need, above fulfilling their own individual purposes (the “it’s not about you” stuff from Rick Warren), without the sense of personal “sacrifice.” To some couples, the meaning of their marriages is enhanced by the belief that they are socializing their children to meet the family’s ends. Parents often expect older children to be able to take care of younger siblings, or even to be able to raise siblings’s children after family tragedies. Family responsibility is partly communitarian, and doesn’t always wait for “chosen” behaviors (sexual intercourse producing babies). Parents also expect that their children will personally take care of them in old age, and that unmarried adult children will be the first to step up to do so.

Proponents of this view of the family often view single and childless people as shirking moral duties to their families, living off of the unseen sacrifices of others, and as undermining the motivation and stability of marriage as a whole. This view of family values maintains that adults who don't have family responsibility (by choice, or later by having it assigned to them) should keep a low public profile, and they also tend to believe that if everyone follows this ruleset, marriage will be more exciting for most people who then make marital commitments. The idea that everybody "plays the game" and that there are no kibitzers helps make this outlook work; it seems to provide a sense of "local equality" because "nobody gets out of things", such as sharing risks. That’s not a worldview that gets expressed in the major media today very often, as a much more individualistic view of morality, based on “personal autonomy” or “individual sovereignty” has evolved since the mid 1960s. Psychologists make something of this when they characterize as abnormal the “schizoid personality” which likes to stay in its own inner world (sometimes imbued with a lot of fantasy) and avoid emotional interactions with others (other than those who are carefully “selected” in a “creative” sense) particularly in the extended family setting. But this characterization seems as much based on the interpersonal needs of the more socialized family members as on the duties of the supposedly “abnormal” excessively introverted or secretive persons who have withdrawn into their own worlds. However, the childless (especially when they are also male homosexuals) are sometimes viewed as expressing hostility to others for demanding

Population demographics will make the “natural family” concept more critical. Medicine is extending lives of elderly parents and sometimes non-elderly disabled family members, but the capacity to do so may be challenged not only by lifestyle habits but also by the willingness of other family members (especially the childless) to “sacrifice”. Medical practice now may be creating a half generation of dependents, creating a social issue with a moral context previously not imagined; this can only otherwise be countered by medical practice that can prevent or counteract disability altogether.

In a modern individualistic society, most discussion about “morality” concern responsibility for chosen actions, particularly bringing children into the world (especially accidentally, as with teen pregnancy). But the “moral climate” that I grew up in during the 1950s was much broader, and emphasized becoming socialized to step up and share common duties, particularly according to gender, and especially when entailing the risk of sacrifice. Today, we see a new kind of debate about the “empty cradle”, that the responsibility for childrearing and caregiving can’t be seen entirely in terms of individual choices; some of it may be a duty that all must share. The “moral” side of this problem is just barely beyond the horizon of the establishment media. Paradoxically, it could help buttress the case for gay marriage.