Thursday, April 29, 2010

NJ middle school principal wants all kids off social networking sites even at home!

A New Jersey middle school principal, Kenneth Orsini, of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in RidgeWood, New Jersey, has sent a letter asking parents to keep all middle school students in his school off social networking sites at home and not to allow kids to have computers in their rooms, at least with wireless or other Internet access.

Orsini was tripped off by “Formspring” (link) which apparently allows kids to make anonymous comments about one another, somewhat in the spirit of "people rating" sites discussed earlier on this blog (in conjunction with the workplace).

North Jersey offered the article by Leslie Brody and Evonne Coutrous, “Ridgewood principal to parents: Get your kids off Facebook” link here

Orsini admits that the good kids and parents (many individually able to handle the responsibilities of Internet use at home at young ages) are being asked to “sacrifice” for order of everyone. It only takes a few kids to engage in cyberbullying or defamation to create enormous disruption for the entire school, even from computers off campus and at home.

Orsini hinted that gay-bashing and body-image issues were particularly pernicious on the Internet among some younger teens.

ABC Good Morning America interview of Orsini by George Stephanopoulous on Aptil 29.

Jason Kessler has a story on CNN link here, title "Principal to parents: Take kids off Facebook."  "There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!," he wrote. "Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! ...It is time for every single member of the [school] Community to take a stand!"

Ironically, the article says, Orsini is a member of Facebook. 

Tweens don't have the resilience to stand up to online name calling, he says, which is a much bigger problem than bullying inthe physical world (especially probably for girls).

There is an ethical question: if use of social networking sites doesn't produce a tangible benefit at this age and presents an unbounded risk that can interfere with others' doing their job (finishing school) then it could be banned.

Update: May 2

A cover story on p 5 of the Sunday May 2 Washington Examiner "Region's schools, parents try to rein in bullying" by Leah Fabel and David Sherfinski", reports that in Montgomery County MD at Lakelands Park Middle School, two students were arrrested for making Facebook threats (presumably from home computers) with theFacebook  moniker "Ur Worst Enemy".

Update: May 6

The front page of the New York Times today has a story by Tamar Lewin, "Teenage Insults, Scrawled on the Web, not Walls", about anonymous grafitti on Formspring, link here.  People can link a Formspring account to a Facebook or Twitter account and invite anonymous comments. Users can ignore anonymous questions, but most tweens seem unaware of this option. Formspring has about 28 million visitors a month.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

EFF explains in detail how to opt out of Facebook's Instant Personalization

Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a short user’s guide giving the detailed steps to opt out of Facebook’s “Instant Personalization”. The steps include blocking Pandora (a reference to “Avatar”?) and Yelp. The EFF link is here.

I think that one’s desire to participate or not in the Personalization simply depends on one’s circumstances and overall strategy for web presence. Personalization could be a useful step in selling oneself (even trying to sell a movie project to investors, perhaps) but it has to be though through carefully.

Members might also want to study Facebook’s link for Site Connect, here. I tried it with imdb’s entry for the 1988 WB film “Stand and Deliver” which has gotten attention lately, and found the entry noted on my Facebook wall. I went ahead and told users how to find my review of the movie on my Movie Reviews blog (April 26).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A shift in direction; what would going back to work mean?

On Tuesday April 27, I expect to start a short-term job, which could lead to opportunities long-term.

Obviously, that may mean that I will have less time for blogging and keeping up with “all the dots of the news.”

I will have to sign a confidentiality oath. That is nothing new; practically all jobs worth anything require protection of bona fide work-related confidences about stakeholders. In this case, there is a theoretical potential that a “general impression” gotten about some politically relevant issue on the job could actually compromise a person’s privacy in some unusual circumstances. Therefore, I cannot discuss anything, even if it seems important, based on information obtained on the job until the employer actually releases it to the public at some time in the future.

Even so, that is not in itself new. There are already several matters, some back from the 1990s, where I am not free to disclose certain things, even though these “things” could conceivably buttress one of the many political arguments that I make (about so many things – “so many dots”). I suppose that one “solution” would be to get money for a film. In the movie industry, you pay for script clearance, where lawyers go out and clear not only copyright or trademark matters but, in documentary or docudrama film, get legal permission to make various sensitive and sometimes previously confidential disclosures. It’s a process that works.

However, as far as I know right now, the confidentiality oath is the only thing I will have to agree to. I’m not aware of any pre-publication review policy (to which I probably would agree to at some point with some jobs) or any policy against “gratuitous publication risk” associated with search engines and “everyone” options in social media or publishing services. But, as I have indicated, some of these matters could come up in the future.

At some point in the future, as I have indicated, I do expect to restructure my web presence, eliminating redundancies, strengthening the label collection process for book and movie reviews, stressing “big stories” for blog entries and using Twitter or other microblogging on social media just to call attention to the breaking news of others.

I f things somehow change, I will let “everyone” know.  I am "almost" 67, supposedly "fully retired."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

NY Senator wants to claim down on social networking sites trade in personal information

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to draft policies limiting the trading of personal information from social networking sites, especially Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. The New York Daily News has its own story today by Simone Weichselbaum, “Schumer blasts Facebook, social network sites for making money by selling users' info” link here .  Persumably he will want to make the social networking "privacy" options make things really private and reduce the "everyone" effect.

Of course, these sites wouldn’t continue if they couldn’t make money doing something.

Publication services like Blogger and Wordpress (even YouTube) sound, offhand, less targeted by Schumer’s fury. I try to keep my posts related to issues, with personal narratives only as relevant to issues, typically not the identifying information useful to marketers. However, I still got a lot of sales-oriented emails based on misinterpretation of what I post. But it’s generally harmless. (I know how to spot the scams.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lobbyists blog under their own names, without disclosing funding sources

Cecilia Kang has an important story on the front page of The Washington Post on Saturday, April 24, 2010, “Tech lobbyists find a powerful disguise online” in print, “undercover persuasion by tech industry lobbyists” online, link here.

“K Street” lobbyists write under their own names to take positions on various issues, and hide their connections to lobbying or public relations firms or to trade groups or corporations that would benefit from the policy changes that their writings advocate. The practice has been particularly common with the network neutrality debate (on both sides), but has also happened with other issues, particularly health care reform where the position of health insurance companies is sensitive, and probably financial services reform and regulation on Wall Street.

The FTC has been trying to crack down on blogging that is paid for “behind the scenes”, especially with freebies. For example, bloggers that receive free copies of books or DVD’s to review are obligated now to disclose that fact.

Individual bloggers who express themselves on their own may be hard to tell from the pack, except for bloggers who cover a wide range of subject matter. The article notes that we have an environment where you can develop a positive online reputation for what scoops you dig up, analyze, connect up, and publish, without competing socially in the old fashioned way. This obviously doesn’t sit well with people.

The article gives many examples, especially in the net neutrality debate, of special interests funding the activities of various bloggers who seem to be writing on their own.

All of this needs to be considered in conjunction with “conflict of interest” or “blogging policies” or even prepublication review, as I have discussed recently, or even the insurance issue discussed this week.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"TMI" ("too much information") generates both start-ups and security concerns on the Web

Brad Stone has a front page story in the New York Times April 23 that follows up on the recent concerns about people giving away too much trivia about themselves, creating security problems for themselves, their families, and perhaps employers or landlords. The title is “For Web’s new wave, sharing details is the point,” with link (web urk) here.

Too much information? Well, not according to some entrepreneurs, such as for “Blippy” (“What are your friends buying?”) here.  OK, parents may not like to see their kids announce that there is a $5000 plasma theater in the home. (Amazon blocked the site from letting consumers post Amazon purchases for a while.) Or try “Foursquare” (link  ) to find your friends. Or try “Daily Booth”, (link) “your life in pictures”, if you really want to be in pictures. A company that offers Internet “August” startups to monitor the competition (“Compete”) finds that today’s teens and many adults find a psychological gratification in exhibitionism and “fame” that transcends the security and privacy concerns of even a decade ago. But, as I wrote Tuesday, insurance companies are starting to notice.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a litany of scare talk about the demise of blogging and social networking. Even about the time Facebook was getting started, pundits were warning that Campaign Finance reform could shut down amateur political blogging – and that threat blew over when there was some common sense applied to it. (It led to a big incident in my life, as described here July 27, 2007). Then all the talk about online reputation (especially with recently set up personal gossip and “people measuring” sites) and employers (maybe even landlords), talk about the need for bloggers to have unpriceable (from an anti-selection perspective) media perils insurance, possibly out of concern for SLAPP suits, to the latest AOL intelligence in property insurance companies.

At the same time, entrepreneurs, not all of them young enough to be svelte on the disco floor while a “Hymn of the Big Wheel” plays, keep coming up with new business models to feed on the name for global “citizen of the world” recognition. It’s a kind of symbolic Clash of the Titans, maybe just in 2D.

There are institutional and even financial pressures to force individuals back into a more socialized form of expression, competing through the social (eg familial) and business structures of the past. I get that question: “Bill, if you made your living for 12 years in life insurance, why don’t you want to sell it?” Translate it thus: if you want to be listened to, why won’t you let us give you some social authority first, so you have real accountability for other people who might actually need you, personally. Anti-discrimination laws could help you that way. Conceivably a communications policy model based on this idea would only allow "fame" to people who could monetize it (through "conventional" third-party channels and sales-oriented activities) to support others.

It’s easy for me to get beyond my “subjective feminine” polarity and point to corruption. Who wanted to be caught selling financial products when the Collapse of 2008 broke? Sure, it’s an immoral world, sometime (and I remember the closing lines of the movie “Shadow of a Doubt” about “Uncle Charlie”). That may be why the Ninth Street Center experiment that I’ve written about back in the 1970s kept itself south of 14th Street (in New York), and stayed local. But the 70s were well before the Internet. That don’t work today.

Maybe somebody will come up with a futures or "derivative" product to cover the "systemic risk" of online freedom.

Bottom picture: Where I lived in NYC in the late 1970s, at the Cast Iron Building at 11th and Broadway, near the Union Square subway.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Supreme Court hears case on employers snooping on personal use of communications devices; may have limited impact, however

On Monday April 19 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case of an Ontario CA police officer who sued his employer for reading his explicit messages sent on a work pager. The case has implications for use of cell phones, blackberries, notebooks, laptops and even regular desktop computers at work or issued by employers to take home or on trips. The case may be limited to government employers or have implications for private employers.

The New York Times has a story April 20 on P A12, “Judges get personal over privacy of messages,” by Adam Liptak, link here.

Some justices expressed concerned that a monolithic “business use” only common with employers would force people to carry two mobile devices, especially on business trips through airports.

Jeffrey Toobin on CNN pointed out that the law does protect privacy of landline phone conversations at work, but not computer communications. Cell phones and blackberries would provide interesting questions.

More people depend on employers for mobile devices than many of us realize.

The case provides a curious contradiction (perhaps contraposition) to recent concerns expressed here about employer blogging policies, online reputation, and even insurance issues (as reported yesterday).

The case is Quon v. City of Ontario No. 08-1332. There is a related case Quon v. Arch Wireless, in which the Ninth Circuit had ruled in favor of the plaintiff, “Ninth Circuit Rules that Text Messages Stored by a Communications Provider are in Electronic Storage for Purposes of the Stored Communications Act; Providers Must Follow More Stringent Rules for Disclosure than for Other Types of Content”, link here

A blog called “Wright’s Legal Beagle” also discusses the case here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

AOL warns that some homeowners insurance companies will charge online (social media) users higher premiums (that's almost everyone now!)

An article on AOL this morning warns that some insurance companies will charge homeowners or renters higher premiums if they use social media online. The article is “Never say this on Facebook or Twitter” and the problem of burglars targeting people based on their announcements that they are not at home was covered on my Internet Safety blog on March 26, 2010 after an incident in Indiana.

The AOL Discover link is here. One wonders if the posting is even in AOL's own best interest (but it's no longer a social media company, since it stopped Hometown AOL a couple years ago).

A corollary of the story would be that announcing one's work schedule online could be a security threat. But if the typical job is weekdays "9 to 5" that "threat" covers almost everyone.

The article mentions Legal & General Insurance in New England. The website is here and doesn’t mention such a policy. But the article says that Legal will charge parents higher premiums even if their children are online. Really? It’s perfectly legitimate to be online, even to do homework! (What about those AP classes?)   How would they set premiums, by the number of Facebook friends or volume of blog posts or tweets? The company reportedly is concerned that even legitmate online photos show how much a person owns and could attract unwanted attention. (Well, remember when women showed off mink coats in the 1950s?)

One obvious question: since social media use is so ubiquitous, among people under 65, probably, is this even a reasonable policy? Listen to Tory Johnson on ABC. You practically have to use social media (constructively) to find a job!  There is, of course, a good question about how you manage your "online reputation".  People who "responsibly" use professional networking sites liked LinkedIn are still potentially tipping off people where and when they work, and might not be at home (or even might be out of town).

One security measure that homeowners could take is to publish only a mail box (like UPS Store) address online and receive mail there. It’s possible for people to purchase “intelligence reports” on people from data brokers, however.

Another question would be how effective home security systems can be against determined intrusion, and the architecture of a home.  High rise apartments (as in large cities) are generally a lot safer than detached homes or garden apartments with many windows (especially secluded windows) and especially sliding glass doors. Many homes were built before home security became a big issue, or were designed carelessly from a security point of view. On the other hand, people living in gated communities would be safer.

Articles like this raise deep questions about the integrity of our systems. Should insurance companies discourage people out of using their First Amendment rights out of a fear of “bullies”? That seems too go to the core of our idea of freedom. Yet, it shows how deep the social tensions in an individualistic society can get; you hone in on one problem (discrimination against groups) you have new ones (inequality among individuals).

A logically related question could be, would landlords worry that a person's social media activity could attract security problems to the premuses? 

There's another social issue here: people can become "famous" (even legitimately, not just with silly online posts) without competing socially in the same manner as in the past.  That attracts anger or indignation from some people.

Monday, April 19, 2010

James Madison University party leads to police seizure of pictures from school newspaper, possible 4th Amendment or statutory violation

Campus and local police at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA (in the Shenandoah Valley, 100+ miles north of VA Tech), raided a campus newspaper (“The Breeze”) office to get photos of a campus spring break party that led to arrests.

Arlington VA station WJLA (ABC 7) claims to have a scoop on this “star reporter” story (by Malachi Constant), with link here.

There is disagreement as to whether police violated the “Federal Privacy and Protection Act”. The Act says “it shall be unlawful for a government officer or employee, in connection with the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense, to search for or seize any work product materials possessed by a person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication.”

I know some students at JMU and I do not believe anyone I know was involved.

The Breeze has its own version of the story by Aaron Koepper, here. (Another url "" doesn't seem to work.)

I believe the Act is USC 552, here at Cornell Law. The Wikipedia reference is Privacy Act of 1974 here

Is there also a Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) issue here?

The irony is that James Madison, after whom the school is named, is seen as the "father of the Constitution".

Pictures: from JMU campus (not necessarily involved in incident), from my own brief visit in March 2010.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Are married people really healthier than singletons? Well, that depends.

Tara Parker-Pope has an interesting piece in the New York Times, reproduced today on MSNBC, “Is marriage good for your health?: What research shows about connection of relationships, physical well-being”

The link is here:

Conventional wisdom, that married people are healthier, goes back to a 19th Century study by British epidemiologist William Farr, who compared the married, the never married, and the widowed (not sure how divorced was counted, as it was hardly socially acceptable during Victorian times).

More recent studies have pointed out that the quality of the marriage matters. A bad relationship is worse for health than no relationship. But it’s true, married people have less dementia and heart disease until well into old age, which can mean statistically that the caretaking for these problems winds up on adult children (including the childless).

Even now, studies don’t take into account gay marriage. But same-sex marriage proponent Jonathan Rauch had written back in the 1990s, “a single person is an accident waiting to happen”, and conservative author George Gilder had, in his 1986 book “Men and Marriage”, had extolled the need of most men to be responsible for someone they are legally committed to (while he extolled “the sexual constitution of our society” during the era of the Moral Majority). Remember the 1955 classic Oscar winner "Marty" where so much pressure is placed on the bachelor to get married, to please his family?

Studies also don’t take into account individual personality variations. Some people seem genetically programmed to remain solitary (more or less like most cats), and do much better if left alone. In fact, human beings, compared to almost all other mammals (including other primates), are remarkable because their need for socialization is itself so variable. Most artistic accomplishments occur when working alone.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Twitter about to monetize; First Lady supports keeping kids away from too much use of electronics and media

So, Twitter is “finally” going to monetize, with Best Buy, Sony Pictures (eg, Columbia) and Virgin America appearing on top of search results, but apparently only in response to searches. The McClatchy-Tribune story is here.  Later the facility will expand with other clients, displaying among tweets.

And the Library of Congress is going to index (from) all possible tweets, whose numbers would be like the number of stars in the Milky Way. Maybe it’s looking for alien life.

Tory Johnson’s Job Club has already explained how people with large Twitter followings can monetize with the help of companies like “Sponsored Tweets”. The ABC story is here

Here’s another aside: the President and his wife don’t allow their daughters to use any cell phones or computers, or even watch television, during the week.  (I remember that command from teachers in seventh grade, back in 1955: "Read, don't watch television!")  And Michelle talked about the problems of “gossipy behavior” among kids on social networking sites.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More on blogging policies and "pre-publication review" requirements

Search engine technology on the Web really took off around 1998, and by mid 1999 it was apparent that the “free entry” ability of ordinary people to “publish” their comments (either on their own websites, applications like Hometown AOL, or forums) could create “disruptions” in the workplace, as well as pose a hazard to minors.

The latter concern led to COPA and its subsequent litigation (covered in another blog “Some Approaches to Filtering Labeling Internet Content) and its ultimate nullification in the courts.

The former concern started to grow, however, especially as blogging (as such) took off around 2001, leading to some notorious firings, such as (in 2002) that of now mommy blogger Heather Armstrong (leading to the creation of a new verb, “to dooce”). In 2002, some web essayed arguing that employers needed to develop “blogging policies” appeared (Nancy Flynn would propose this in a book “Blog Rules” written for SHRM and the AMA in 2006, rather late). But as early as the spring of 2000, I had started writing some pieces explaining my concerns about this. I thought that people in certain kinds of jobs probably should not blog on their own at all. Generally, there were jobs involving direct reports from subordinates, evaluation of people (giving grades, deciding if customers met underwriting criteria), speaking for your employer publicly (that is, K-street public relations or lobbying jobs), or jobs in “fraternal employers” which existing to advocate the interests of a target customer group in a publicly adversarial or partisan manner. I thought that the only alternative was “censorship” by employers – restricting the subject matter that one could blog about amounted to censorship (a concept known from the COPA trial). The underlying issue was not “content restriction”, but unsupervised publication of any content. I wondered if distribution (apart from speech) could be construed as a “fundamental right”.

Some of my concern stemmed from my own history, where I wrote a book dealing with gays in the military back in the 1990s while working for a company that sold life insurance to members of the military, as one of its businesses. I had vetted this with HR as to whether it was a “conflict of interest” and two or three points did come out of the “what’s in the box” discussion: I was an individual contributor, I didn’t make underwriting decisions, and publication of content (any content) did not constitute a conflict of interest with insurance as it is normally regulated.

In 2004 or 2005, however, social networking sites and social media became significant (“Web 2.0”), enriching, if not complicating, debates about free entry. Although social networking blogs and wallpapers could be searched, users were gradually encouraged to use privacy settings (how effective they are is a matter of controversy) and emphasize sharing material with people they know. Even so, many people (even “responsible” college students and media professionals) have lists of 1000 or so friends, and it isn’t possible to “know” that many people well. In practice, comments made on social networking sites or even cell phone texts and emails have led to disputes and consequences to “online reputation” without the intervention of search engines. The Dr. Phil show has made this point many times (“Internet mistakes”). Digital records can last forever.

On February 8, 2010, I surveyed (on my COPA blog, mentioned above) the issue of “prepublication review” policies that many government employers have for civil servants, members of the Armed Forces, and contractors. (For the military, “don’t ask don’t tell” is an immediate complication, isn’t it.) It would appear that “prepublication review” could become an industry accepted concept or process, not viewed as “censorship” as viewed by the world of COPA.

Prepublication review could consist of an examination of what the blogger intends to write about, particularly with respect to whether it could even accidentally disclose trade secrets or confidential or even classified information (by aggregation, for example), and a review of a reasonable sample of what the blogger has already posted. It could be done by an outside company, perhaps in the “reputation defense” business. It could be seen as supervisory in nature, much like editing of books or periodical articles in more conventional trade publishing in the past.

Companies should post blogging or pre-publication review policies in a conspicuous place online for job applicants and current employees and even contractors to see. The areas of greatest concern would generally exist with management employees, those who make discretionary decisions, and who speak for the organization or the client. (For example, if your job was to act as the spokesperson for the health insurance industry – as in PBS’s film “Obama’s Deal” -- you wouldn’t want to criticize private health insurance – and this observation is an indication of the profound ethical implications of this kind of issue regarding free speech (with free distribution) and the workplace. )

Care should be taken, however, in defining “management employee”. Would it include an assistant manager in a fast-food place? I doubt it. What about a sub-manager “project leader” in an IT shop? Probably not, unless the “project leader” signed off on performance appraisals. (But in one company where I worked in the 1980s, a “project leader” did just that, whereas a “group leader” did not; every organization has its own terminology in the HR area.)

Care should be taken with contractors who work at client sites, whose own publicly searchable material could distract clients. Employers might fear that some people would take jobs to "report on them" or write about them after quitting (the "Food Lion" problem from the 1990s).

These concepts probably don’t apply to domestic or household employment, but "self-publishing" people who hire for their homes probably should go through third party agencies rather than hire themselves, to reduce the likelihood of potential conflicts.

Picture: not one of Ashton's cool pix.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Internet companies and advocacy groups propose a "digital due process" upgrade to 1986 electronic privacy law

On March 30, the Electronic Frontier Foundation posted a release “EFF joins with Internet companies and advocacy groups to reform privacy law: Coalition urges updates to electronic privacy statute to reflect Web 2.0 world”. The link is here.

The focus of the recommendations have to do with preventing citizens and netizens from being tracked or monitored without their consent, especially by government, when there is no probable cause to suspect them of having done anything wrong. There is a new concept “digital due process” which is much more difficult in a world of open systems where you want anonymity and free entry but accountability at the same time.

Existing law is contained by the Electronic Privacy Communications Act of 1986, text here . The Digital Due Process Coalition describes its goals in this summary white paper (or blue paper) here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another note about "The Moralities" (also: blog comments policy)

Here’s a quick note on my comments policy. Sometimes I see only the beginning of a comment (in the dashboard) and approve it, and then when it is posted that down in the comment is something inappropriate from a TOS point of view. Tonight I removed one (right after posting) which tried to encourage visitors to engage in unethical or non-TOS-compliant behavior for money, further down in the text. I guess I have to read these entirely, to stay in good standing.

Comments should have a reasonable relation to the blog posting (selling something is OK but it should have something to do with the blog) and be in English or in a major European language.

Just another note. Thursday I wrote one of my tomes on “morality”. One of the early drafts of my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book had contained a chapter called “Morality’s Third Normal Form”. I had written “A moral theory and associated public policy centered on individual liberty and personal autonomy must be predicated on holding everyone accountable to their promises, to their “contracts.” That sounds like “Morality 2” in my piece Thursday. I had related this back to the “Honor Code” principle stated by former midshipman Joseph Steffan’s book “Honor Bound” on his experience at the Naval Academy, where he had written “Personal Honor is an absolute; you either have Honor of you do not. No one can take it from you; it can only be surrendered willingly. And once it is surrendered, once it is compromised, it can never again be fully regained.”

One can expand further and get into the subject of integrity, which has to do with the consistency of one’s underlying motives. I see that I wrote in Chapter 5 of my first “DADT screed” : “Honor is more than just honesty or its masculine analogue (in Rosenfels), courage. It seems to imply zero tolerance of dishonest acts by one’s peers. Integrity is an even more inclusive term. Stephen Carter writes, “Integrity requires three steps: discovering what is right from wrong, acting on what you have discovered even at personal cost, and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.” One can be honest or courageous, but for the wrong, self-serving motives” (Carter’s reference is The Insufficiency of Honesty,” Atlantic Monthly, February, 1996, pp 74-76/)

The integrity concept comes into play in understanding “Morality 1”. People will sometimes feel that they get a psychic reward from making and keeping a commitment if they know that others must do the same, giving their experience a public “meaning”.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Sometimes it's illegal to take photos of people in public (even if they don't wind up on the Internet)

A Fredericksburg, VA newspaper, in a story by Keith Epps, reports the arrest of a man for an improper photo of a young woman sitting in a car in a Wawa store parking lot, link here. He was charged with a Class 6 felony in Virginia. The story is here.

The story is potentially important because people take pictures that include other people, including children, in public places all the time. Think of the locations: the Cherry Blossoms, the baseball stadium, a disco. Of course, there was something inappropriate about this particular photo. The picture never made it to the Internet; a license plate number was remembered, and the person was apprehended in the real world.

As far as I know, it should be OK to include pictures of people incidentally appearing in personal photos in public places on blog postings as long as they are not “compromising” in some way. Some of my blog posting pictures do include people in a “random” non-identifiable way. However, with postings where the text content is unusually sensitive, I sometimes use landscape photos with no people to avoid any unintended conclusions.

Picture: No, a fox is not a "person".  It is a cat in a dog's body. But this particular fox acts like people, taking a nap in the suburbs, right in front of people.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

We think we live under "Morality 2" (individualism), but we'd better understand the older "Morality 1" ("natural family" communalism)

It seems to me that there exist two major ways we look at moral values.

What I would call “Morality 2” is the individualism commonly understood today. A basic precept is that you are responsible for exactly your own chosen actions. You become directly responsible for others by conscious choice: most notably, by heterosexual intercourse bringing a new person into the world.

The legal system of “Morality 2” is largely based on freedom to contract and the obligation to honor contracts (that includes mortgages and credit cards, of course), and on the idea of informed consent. A person cannot be expected to give intimacy without consent, and a minor is not capable of informed consent, so minors are still protected under this system of Morality.

Generally, this sense of “Morality 2” is viewed as supporting libertarianism, but classical liberalism or progressive liberalism (the convenient “socialism” that goes with the “me generation”) is often supported. For example, in this system it often makes sense to socialize health insurance costs and take the uncontrollable risks of health care costs off of individuals’ backs, sometimes in conflict with “personal responsibility.” A lot of the health care debate (particularly with respect to pre-existing conditions) follows this idea, as do public health care systems in Europe.

The biggest criticism of “Morality 2” may seem to come from the observation that many people “of privilege” who think they have earned their way in life actually benefit from the unseen sacrifices of others. But that skims on the top of the surface. The modern preoccupation with the individual has always come into conflict with a view that sees man as a social, conjugal being whose natural granularity is a social group, usually the nuclear family. The “natural family” of Carlson, Mero and Longman is a usual concept for encapsulating this kind of thought (with the idea that every man should first become a husband and father and every woman a wife and mother, with few "legitimate" exceptions). This view is often influenced by religious faith, that a Creator has purposes for people that are beyond their control.

That leads me back to “Morality 1”, the half-hidden precept when I was growing up in the 50s. This view emphasized that everyone had certain “natural” obligations to others merely by belonging to a community and particularly the family. The most obvious of these obligations seemed correlated to gender: men had a natural duty to protect women and children (hence the constitutional legality of the male-only draft in the past). More generally, competent adults had a responsibility not only to children but to other incapacitated or disabled adults, especially the elderly in their own families. Responsibility was to stay within families in order to keep government at bay, in a lot of conservative thought. Of course, this system could hide abuse, ranging from slavery to patriarchal misbehavior often depicted in today’s soap operas. No wonder that individualism and libertarianism could challenge this abuse. But, on the other end, so could some forms of socialism.

It’s important to project the meaning of “Morality 1” down to the individual person, especially someone who is “different” – as to gender identity or sexual orientation, or to a general desire (or lack of) for various levels of social interaction. Generally, under Morality 1, you were expected to develop the competitive skills and social bearing (relative to gender, to a point) that you could provide for a family of your own or for other members of your family of origin if you were ever called upon to do so. You were expected to behave with deference to certain social decorum even when it seemed gratuitous or “irrational.” It was particularly important that you demonstrate this capacity before you drew attention to yourself “on the global stage. You were not allowed to interact “as a citizen of the world” on your own outside of the context of family. If this “rule” were in place today, many of the unbounded risks of the Internet would not exist (but then again, maybe we wouldn’t even have a public Internet!)

The demands for socialization, even among those introverts who do remain childless, become particularly apparent with the need for eldercare, which is exploding because of demographics. In the current financial crisis, many states are likely to start coming down on adult children with “filial responsibility laws” and sometimes connect them to abuse laws. The needs may become so great that in time adult children even in families with long term care insurance or sufficient wealth will not be able to “get out of” unwelcome intimate responsibilities by outsourcing it or by placing disabled parents in institutions. At the same time, social pressures to be open to adoption and raise other people’s children (a favorite phrase of Longman) will increase, and ironically, gay marriage and adoption (the Rosie O’Donnell effect) will increase this pressure. And, as Hollywood has demonstrated in a few movies and television series, sometimes childless adults wind up raising siblings’ children after family tragedies. The “reserve” capability to care for others in family with some degree of hands-on, physical intimacy sounds essential, even if it contradicts the modern notion that an adult always has the right to refuse unwanted intimacy. Some of this requirement for “proof of love” from other family members seems to come as a privilege of parenthood within marriage, just as in the past property and political power followed parenthood in marriage. People with “older mindsets” of one-earner families are more likely to believe that familial affection from others for “what they are” is a social, moral and even legal entitlement, and people can argue that families could not form and prosper unless such persons could enjoy such a lifetime emotional benefit.

The recent emphasis on preventing teenage pregnancy, especially as depicted by Dr. Phil and others, sometimes seems to send a message that responsibility for others occurs as a consequence of deliberate choice (sexual intercourse). Not true. You can wind up with a lot of responsibility for others anyway, and sometimes it can be dumped in your lap. Not funny, but very real, and hidden in plain sight. As one get past a certain age and faces eldercare or other family responsibilities, it’s sometimes possible that children can become an “asset”, just as in the past. So it sounds like a misleading message. Dr. Phil hasn’t told the whole story. But this isn’t just about love, it’s about legitimate expectations of personal autonomy when living in a community.

Do I believe in “Morality 1”? Why do I spend so much space on it? Well, remember, I got into writing and later blogging after entering the debate on gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell”, because of the ironic way it connected back to an event earlier in my life. The issues exploded and encompassed everything: the military ban connected back to the draft, deferments, differentiation of risk by gender, and general “unfairness”; the “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality (thank you, Bill Clinton) seemed to cover up a lot of the social manipulations that make a lot of society work. Later, gay marriage began to morph into a debate not just about equal benefits from the state for a relationship, but about the ability to form and keep stable relationships grounded in complementarity (or “polarity”) and able to provide for others. Generally, I began to see that we had a system that you could call “pay your bills, pay your dues.”

I wrote about “Morality 1” because I felt we have forgotten about it (gay rights activists, at least outside of SLDN, which seems to understand, have largely abandoned think about it). It still lives buried inside many notions of Common Law, and in snippets in other areas like filial responsibility laws. Thankfully, Lawrence v. Texas (2003), took it on with respect to sodomy laws, and showed that these laws really had always lived as a (Scalia!) Vatican-driven ruse to make everyone ready to share “family responsibility”. Morality 1 does tend to place an emphasis not just on raising children or the next generation but on protecting individually vulnerable or non-competitive adults by coercing other family members to be able to step in and personally take care of them (without too much reliance on "the state"). But “Morality 1” also encourages easily corrupted power structures. “Morality 2” makes these structures less influential and allows individuals more freedom and tends to resist corruption, by absolute focus on personal responsibility. But in some ways “Morality 2” hides dependencies and sacrifices, and beckons others to come back and bite us. Either moral paradigm, carried to excess, can lead to war. In our current debate about climate change and energy and terrorism, we wonder if hyper-individualism is sustainable.

I must admit that I cannot live up to the demands of “Morality 1” and make my life productive as I see things. I indeed “spoke out of turn”, big time. Should I be expected to change how I see things? There are some people who would want that. But I think I have accomplished something in articulating how our older system really worked. There is a conceit behind the older Morality and its "social contract" or "social covenant": it seemed to give a community meaning to personal commitments that made them work only if everyone in sight abided by them. "Morality 1" reverts back to religious teachings (almost any faith) that insist that we can not avoid uncertain interdependence. It forces us to behave as social creatures.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Two bizarre defamation suits related to Facebook reported

There are a couple more defamation suits in the works involving Facebook.

In Illinois, a mother and her son are suing four other teenage minors for setting up a false profile on Facebook that presented the son as racist. $50000 damages are demanded. The news story is by Jeniifer Fernicola at Chicago Bar-tender here  with the complaint on Scribd (web url) here.

But in an even more bizarre case from Arkadelphia, AK, a 16 year old boy who lives with his grandmother is suing his mother for defaming him on his Facebook page, with the AP story on Salon here.

These are ironic stories indeed a couple days after the media discussed the “Unvarnished” website (previous story).

Monday, April 05, 2010

Site called "unvarnished" seems to let people rate others anonymously; controversy on unknown risk follows quickly

On the NBC Today show on Monday April 5, 2010, there was a report on a new website called “Unvarnished”, which appears to have the domain address here.

The site says it invites reviews from the public about other professionals, which the media is representing as reviews about other “people.” If you log on, the site invites you to connect with Facebook, and then sign up to be in a queue to log in, so it appears.

There are, of course, a plethora of websites to review restaurants, books, movies, professional services, and especially medical professionals -- so potentially disturbing that some doctors require their patients to sign “gag orders”. Some of them are logically built into bigger e-commerce sites like Amazon and Ebay and thought to be managed with reasonable control.

However, there is criticism of this new site that it would allow anonymous defamation of anyone, without any possibility of facing the speaker or even taking legal action against the defamer. We can leave speculation about subpoenas for IP addresses of anonymous speakers for litigation for later – but based on all the copyright lawsuits lately, it’s easy to imagine how it could get complicated legally.

MSNBC broadcast the story to Dell computer owners this evening with the scare banner “Site lets you ‘rate’ others anonymously.” Doesn’t sound like it comports with the Golden Rule. Typical criticism appears in a piece by Will Buchanan on Monday April 5 in the Christian Science Monitor, link here.  The title of the article is “Scant praise for Unvarnished, a website for reviewing people: Unvarnished, a controversial new 'people review site,' allows users to anonymously publish critiques of others' workplace performances. Critics cite concerns about defamation and libel.”  There are various criticisms about the interface with Facebook, with probably constructive opportunities for Facebook to enforce more controls on its end.  It sounds urgent.

MSNBC’s video follows:

Internet security expert Parry Aftab suggests that the site needs much more control to make sure comments are legitimate.

Would employers believe “rumors” spread by anonymous posts? Some people fear that it is only human nature that employers would. It will be interesting to hear how Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation Defender, comments on this site in the coming days.

As a “blogger journalist”, I signed up for the queue, to find out how it works. Sure, you say. But I do not write anonymous comments about people anywhere, and in fact I do not review individual people who render services anywhere (with my own name, with a pseudonym, or anonymously), because if I did, it would hinder their working with me. (How many people really get this? Well, if you're anonymous you're not famous and anonymous speech is a constitutional right, isn't it?) I do review movies, books, TV shows, plays, and music compositions and concerts, but from the point of view of the “issues” that the content raises; I don’t give them “stars” ratings on my blogs. (I do give “star” ratings on Netflix to movies when prompted, but this is obviously legitimate “generalized” public feedback about the quality of a product; it cannot possibly harm any individual’s personal or professional reputation in the sense that we are concerned about here.)  I;ll add that I once "accidentally" "defamed myself" in a complicated incident when I was substitute teaching (this blog, July 27, 2007) -- because I was trying to make a "political point" about free-entry speech itself!

I do remember a sermon at All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis some years ago about the ethical folly of “measuring people.” (Actually, I talked about that this in my first posting today and on several preceding ones, at least indirectly.) I do have a “people database” in my own mind (Ok, that’s sinful), and maybe there are numbers in its imaginary rows and columns, but I do not “measure” or “rate” people in public online postings!!  If there exists an online database that gives every person a FICO-like "worthiness" score (or a "Public Station in Life") based on the opinions of others, political leaders could some day use that for very evil purposes indeed; history has shown us this already.

Just Sunday, the Washington Post implemented a new policy to rein in on anonymous "troll" comments on its own site ("Online readers need a chance to comment, but not to abuse",  by ombudsman Andrew Alexander, here).

This whole subject can take us further into “dark energy” territory with hypotheticals about unbounded risks. I welcome comments (monitored), especially about any controls that the media hasn't bothered to report: this is the first day that I've heard of the site. We’ve discussed that before in connection with media perils insurance. Stay tuned. This whole topic is bound to grow very quickly, like Audrey in the Little Shop of Horrors.

Update: April 7

Time Magazine has an article by Dan Fletcher, "A new website for taking shots at your boss", but the HTML title says that the site is for "rating coworkers."  The cofounder Peter Kazanjy says thar the site has controls through Facebook and that anonymous defamatory speech could be tracked back to Facebook.  The link is here.  It would seem that companies would need to address sites like this in drafting "blogging policies".  There's more to come.

"Living in a community": the lessons of the Terru Schiavo tragedy and caring for the helpless

On March 30, the Washington Times Commentary carried an op-ed by Cathy Ruse of the Family Research Council and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Remembering the Death of Terri Schiavo: Care of the helpless is not a choice but a moral obligation,” link here.

After reviewing the tragic circumstances of the case for the family, she refers to the purported “right to die” (with dignity), in the parlance of many people”, and turns it into an astonishing metaphor, needing to be quoted: “ a radical individualism that renders every other person a threat to your freedom and therefore your enemy”. I think the metaphor would be more relevant if she qualified “every person” as something like “every person with an unbounded need to be cared for.” She then refers to Terri’s “puerile” (that is, childish or “chicken”) husband as “self-absorbed” and self-serving in talking about rights.

A couple things here. The writer is talking about a legal spouse who had taken a voluntary vow of marriage, and obviously was morally obliged to live up to it and do everything possible to save his wife. There is some background (check Wikipedia). Her husband had previously won a malpractice lawsuit against her obstetrician for failing to diagnose and treat bulimia, which can (like anorexia and eating disorders) can lead to coma and death (as in the troubling HBO film “Thin”). It’s possible to talk about this in “behavior-based disease” terms (which conservative columnists like George Will like to toss around regarding many things – diet, smoking, HIV, obesity, etc) and place some moral responsibility on the victim (that would put a lot of us in harms way, wouldn’t it). The larger subject is disability or incapacity, whether or children or adults, whether or not self-induced, and of the obligations, not created by voluntary choice, to deal with it.

The writer could have gone into the idea that we’ve gotten used to the modern idea (even promoted by Dr. Phil all the time) that responsibility for others begins with conception – or the (unprotected) act that can produce conception. Until you make the choice to engage in that specific behavior, you can do whatever you want (like that character Grant in “Bugcrush” uttering that famous line). Once you’ve brought new life into the world, responsibility for others exists. You can rehearse for it by going onto reality TV’s “The Baby Borrowers.”

Sorry, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Ever seen the film “One True Thing” (oh, yes, the father was so manipulative, wasn’t he). We can be expected to support others in our family of origin – most notably our aging parents, but sometimes even siblings or their kids after tragedies. That’s actually the law in many states (that have “filial responsibility laws”, implemented at different levels). Even if you don’t generate a family of your own, you have one of origin assigned to you – and its needs can have a big effect on your life. It’s not necessarily one’s “fundamental right” to refuse affection just out of one’s own expressive needs, and it’s not necessarily one’s right to impact the rest of the world without responsibility for others. The law or social decency typically requires other in a family to deal with incapacity, and, although the requirements vary a lot and can be nebulous, the law typically provides some instruments, like powers of attorney, to deal with these problems.

Both Allan Carlson (see my Book Review blog Sept. 18) and Phillip Longman, among others, have discussed “radical individualism” and its “logical consequences” with respect to issues like the “family wage” and “demographic winter”.

I’ve always suspected that what makes many of the leading issues over “gay rights” (that is, ending “don’t ask don’t tell”, same-sex marriage and even adoption by gays) so testing is not the legalistic, paper arguments over equal protection, but the way unpredictable obligations, sometimes requiring sacrifice or life redirection, can fall upon any of us in a community.  And this moral obligation comes at us from both the Left and the Right.  It seems to make introversion (or the so-called "schizoid personality") either a sin or a "disorder".

It can be challenging -- and life-changing, perhaps even shortening -- to have to take partial ownership of someone else's "moral karma".  Doing so can be humbling, perhaps even humiliating. One wants others to know what they did (or neglected) before they are forgiven.  Yet, on the Cross, Christ forgave without expecting others to even understand the implications of what they had done.  Grace itself is challenging.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Before you know "how" you must know "what": the three pillars of a new social covenant (and "do ask do tell")

So, what do I want to “accomplish” with an effort to make a film out of my “do ask do tell” materials?

One icepick in my mind is the idea that, yes, at times, others disrupted my capability to have the kinds of (consenting adult) relationships that I wanted, and to pursue the expressive career ends that I believe best suited for my abilities and temperaments. You can talk about forgiveness, but first, I think I want to figure out, “what did they want”? It’s like that “handwriting on the wall” in Stephen King’s miniseries “Storm of the Century”: “Give me what I want and I’ll go away.” So “what” is it?

There are two particular incidents in my life where this happened (described on this blog July 27, 2007, regarding the Teacher Reputation Panic of 2005 and Nov. 28, 2006, describing the William and Mary Expulsion of 1961), and each incident is a bit like a mystery in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They are bookends that lead to a couple of the leading “political thrusts” in my life: my involvement with the “don’t ask don’t tell” issue regarding gays in the military, and with Internet censorship (the COPA trial) and later reputation issues (the July 27 post above). There are a couple of “going down” periods in my life that link to “what they want”: the period where I transitioned out of graduate school to becoming an E-1 soldier in Army Basic Training in 1968 (when we had the draft – hint!) and later in 2003 when I drove away from my interesting life in Minneapolis to deal with family issues (a more subtle hint).

I gave some more hints about this in recent blog posts on March 21 and March 24, 2010 (sandwiched around my quick trip to Virginia Tech).

All of this leads to a proposition that we might redesign the “social contract” (or even “covenant”) of what citizenship demands of everyone in a sustainable society. That “covenant” would have a few properties:

(1) Entropy: There is now way to have individual and social freedom and perfect “fairness” or absolute “justice”; if you want perfect self-righteousness, join the Taliban.

(2) Community: This is the notion that people are able to link themselves to ends greater than themselves (often through the family, and not just “the natural family”). This connects pretty well to “sustainability”.

(3) Justice. Yes, in a certain zone, equality before the law matters. But justice in a deeper sense means that all people pay heed to the sacrifices of others that otherwise go unseen. People act as if they are more willing to commit themselves “outside of themselves” when they knowor at least believe that others will do the same (the “anti-Prisoner’s Dilemma”) and when the “rules of engagement” make sense.

Does this correlate to “gay rights?” Well, it overlaps a lot, doesn’t it. But there is no reason why (2), especially, could not exist in a world that accepts same-sex marriage and adoption (Jonathan Rauch’s “win-win”) and that lifts “don’t ask don’t tell”, not just from the military but our social relations on a larger scale. Gender-related variation is a part of nature.

What I really do pick up on, is that “family responsibility” doesn’t wait for the individual to make a particular “choice” (to procreate or “risk” procreation), and that the commitment (and "covenant") of marriage confers not only responsibilities but the effective powers to confer responsibilities to others who don't make the same choices. Indeed, the modern world offers a somewhat vulnerable alternative but very expressive opportunity for those who don’ have their own children or even want them; but there is a risk that we make it too difficult for people to make and keep the commitment to have them; Longman’s – and Vatican -- arguments have some validity. When you stick your neck out and make yourself known as a “global citizen” people want to see you responsible for specific other people. That seems like a big clue as to what is going on.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Appeals court orders plaintiffs to pay anti-gay protestors legal fees; even conservatives are outraged; O'Reilly says he will help family

An appeals court has overturned a lower court judgment against a group that had protested a veteran’s funeral, supposedly because the military had gays in its ranks. The appeals court (the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, usually “conservative”) ordered Albert Snyder to pay legal defense court costs to the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka KS. The story by Robbie Whelan in the Baltimore Sun March 31 reads “Anger rises over bill to father of slain Marine: Support, money sent to help pay court costs in Westboro suit”, link here.

Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly (Fox) reportedly offered to pay the family’s court order. O’Reilly, while obviously supportive of veterans, points out that the behavior of the “church” in protesting a funeral could have been viewed as disorderly conduct. Politically, there are “strange bedfellows” (or bunkmates) on this matter.

Courts sometimes order plaintiffs to pay defendants’ legal costs when they believe that the litigation was “frivolous”, a practice we now consider part of tort reform, a concept that in the long run is necessary to protect legitimate free speech and blogging (consider what the climate would be if speakers and bloggers had to have liability insurance).

The group has sometimes picketed “gay churches” around the country, with police usually keeping them across the street; pastors have generally advised churchgoers to ignore the protestors and avoid confrontation.

The case will probably go to the Supreme Court.

Ironically. Google greeted visitors on April Fools day with the corporate logo spelled “Topeka”, probably unaware that the Westboro Baptist Church is located there and of the (coincidental) anger over this case. Topeka Kansas may be one of the first sites for the company's new broadband technology.