Saturday, July 31, 2010

Obscure legal case involving CA juicer could affect media, blogger disclosure of sealed info; First Amenment grounds?

The Metro section of the July 31, 2010 Washington Post leads off with a curious story by Keith L. Alexander that may have a surprising national First Amendment bearing. The title is “Law journal can publish court file information; D.C. judge lifts order that attorneys, media outlets said violated First Amendment,” link here.

The fact pattern is obscure. A California pomegranate juice supplier was being investigated by a federal agency that wanted to remain secret.

There was a controversy over whether First Amendment claims could trump a court order sealing files (issued at a judge’s discretion)?

Conceivably the underlying constitutional questions could deserve appellate or Supreme Court review.

The details remind one a bit of the convolutions of a John Grisham novel.

Where the issue could matter is future situations involving “ordinary” bloggers or even tweets or social networking posts disclosing sealed information. Could the government prevent bloggers from disclosing links to classified materials such as those from WikiLeaks?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Facebook "friends of friends" could be "outed", according to "proof of concept" experiment

In a “proof of concept” experiment (or maybe “proof of love”), security consultant Ron Bowes (a security consultant for Pirate Bay) has developed a downloadable file of 100 million Facebook users. According to media reports such as on MSNBC (link) Bowes created the file from people who had not used privacy settings and several thousand people have downloaded it.

People who had set up their accounts so they were not finable in Facebook’s search system could be found on this file if they were friends of anyone who was. The experiment demonstrates the “chain lettering” aspect of social networking, making keeping to older notions of privacy difficult.

It seems very unlikely individuals would be harmed by the file, unless very determined “stalkers” tried to use it. It’s unlikely to have an effect on anyone’s “online reputation” as we normally discuss it.

Bowes’s site is called “Skull Security” (link).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The culture war (family-centered v. individualism) may come down to the wire: what generates family responsibility? It's not just "choice"

On Monday, July 26, Cheryl Wetzstein gave us a column “In family’s future, past is prologue” (link here) and briefly discussed a book by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone on “red state and blue state families”. The book is titled “Red Families and Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture” from Oxford University Press. She discusses controversy over the growth of hyper-individualism, and notes critics like Carle C. Zimmerman and, in the print version, Jennifer Roback Morse.  (If one wants to sample reviews of the book, go to Oxford's site for the book here.  I have ordered it from Amazon myself and will review it soon on the Books Blog.)

Generally, families in more highly educated and politically liberal or moderate cultures have emphasized individual achievement, and individual choice and concomitant responsibility (dependent on choice) for adults. Indeed, many teens do well in this sort of environment. However, critics notice that social skills and familial interdependence, necessary for a culture to remain sustainable, may be lost.

The growth of big-scale problems since 9/11 may be pointing out the limits of individualism. It’s true that over the past several decades individual responsibility and the market have met many challenges. These have included fuel scares of the past, health issues related to smoking and weight, and even HIV, which has been met by medical (pharmanceutical) innovation and some attention to personal responsibility in behavior. But some of the challenges today, related to the environment or climate change, sudden or unpredictable pandemics, and to demographic forces producing diseases associated with old age, may not be met as easily without “change of heart”. It’s matter of debate how much individual behavior relates to financial stability.

There is reason to believe that healthful longevity can be maintained (maybe still for women more than men) by intact and interdependent family structures. This could become a significant observation as medical treatment can increase longevity, particularly in the face of an increase in Alzheimer’s, which may not be met by medical innovation at an individual level the way other diseases (even AIDS) have been. Interdependency encourages larger families and more children and pro-natal public policy, unless economic changes can keep people working productively much longer (difficult given today’s unemployment and underemployment difficulties).

There’s no question that social changes would have a huge impact on those who do not have children or who postpone them for career reasons, especially for many women and especially for most LGBT people. In past generations, families expected persons who did not marry or have their own children to take “first up” in taking care of parents, who then did not live as long. Even today, in many families (especially in poorer cultures), older children are expected to help take care of and raise younger siblings (even to the point of stopping education and working if a parent dies), or to step in and raise a sibling’s children after family tragedies (as in “Raising Helen” and similar films).  Some people now want to see everyone participate in family intimacies, confounding the usual legal notion of "consent", and raising the question, if you don't respect a particular person's life choices (not to have kids), do you really want him or her to help raise yours -- or is that a "contradiction"? 

All of this leads to pressure on many young people to accept disruption in their own chosen path (often matching their abilities) and learn social and manual skills, often somewhat gender specific, related to providing for others (and dealing with others by "joining them" in their own family space, not to be judged as "citizens of the world"), even when they haven’t had or don’t want to have their own children. There is a growing awareness that if a society does not produce enough children, many people may demonstrate a lack of “generativity”, or concern about what will follow them when they are gone. When one considers the growing problem of eldercare and the likelihood that many states will really start enforcing filial responsibility laws (28 states have them), childless people could be forced into what they experience as a subservient position, meeting the needs of others who did carry on the family lineage. The so-called “demographic winter” problem touted by the right wing should be taken seriously.

Personally, I have been quite aware of these concerns for years, but they have manifested themselves with other notions, especially related to the workplace and even to military service (the old past controversy about conscription and deferments). I have a generic term for these concerns, “Pay your dues” (as well as “Pay your bills”). Associated is another phrase connected to threats to sustainability, namely “It won’t be so bad … or will it?” as well as talk of “The Purification” and associated targeted expropriation. What I’ve seen in some writings (they tend to come from the far right or far left) that encourage more socialization and group consciousness. This can lead to a society that is more stable in the face of adversity, at a great cost to individual liberty and self-expression. Obviously, those in charge of such a society often abuse their political powers (the Nixon problem that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”), and this sort of thinking may invite totalitarianism or at least authoritarianism.

I did decide to become a “Journalist” of the self-made kind some number of years ago when the controversy over gays in the military began with Bill Clinton. I have since been in some situations – first substitute teaching and then eldercare, and I’ll not go into personal details here—where some of these social skills associated with accepting “interdependency” are expected of me. On several occasions in the past few years, parties have approached me about changing career directions (again, I am “retired IT” at age 67), trying to get me interesting in pretending to be a male or familial role model myself and then peddle their agenda (and make something “all right” that isn’t with me). I don’t want someone else’s child thinking of me as “daddy” (in my circumstances now, anyway). No, I don’t want to knock on a family’s door and pretend that I can solve their insurance or financial planning or tax problems, either. Frankly, as a pre-teen, my experience with activities related to subsequent expected “gender role models” was humiliating, so I tuned off of the whole process and went down my own individualistic path as an adult. I became expressive, to be sure. But as “times changed” starting about 9/11 (or slightly before, actually), I found myself pressured to respond to these expectations.

I see a paradox similar to my own experience in the way social networking technology evolved. Facebook's founder talks about people's sharing, having singular public identities, and new world openness, and yet (or even "of course") he comes across as one of Ayn Rand's individualists. Openness today means transitory intimacy, meaningful in an individually-centered world built on emotional self-sufficiency and immunity to jealousy, for sure. That's a total turnaround from the social structures of the past, where an individual's team was a given.  Think of Web 2.0 as like baseball's free agency.

There is a logical “circuit completion” here of an existential nature. The individualistic demands for “equal rights” really do lead to situations where one is challenged again for “equal responsibility”. (Jonathan Racuh was writing that in his arguments in the 1990s, when he said that gays might win the right to marry and then go to sleep on using it.) Does one, sent to urban exile for an adult life that became productive, really want to take on OPC, “other people’s children” when finally given the “right”? Good question. (I do understand where Rosie O’Donnell is coming from – “a family is a family …”). There’s also the issue of supporting things that seem to be wrong from an individualistic perspective, in taking care of people. (Oh, you can love the sinner but not the sin, but I have trouble with that.) The psychological appeal of “fundamentalism” (in any form, including some of radical Islam) becomes apparent: if everyone has to follow the same strict rules and go through the same rites of passage, then committed activity (as in marriage) takes on a whole new meaning (or an old meaning, that has been lost). Fundamentalism leads to a certain contradiction, which Christianity (in its early communal, heavily socialized form shortly after the Ascension) sought to resolve: the rules (as the Pharisees found out) become the end in themselves, defending the individual from dealing with uncomfortable feelings in dealing with “real people” who can, as individuals, stumble badly.

The existential circuit gets completed with a particularly disturbing question: If I don’t “like myself” enough to want to be a (gender based) role model (for OPC) or to procreate (and take the risks or bear the uncertainties as well as the responsibilities of such “choice”), why should anyone listen to me as a writer? What's the point of connecting the dots and proving one can produce a knowledge font until one does good for specific others?  (Call it "keeping 'em honest". It's the old dichotomy between being right and having a life, maybe.) Yet, when times were better, a dozen or so years ago (when I gave my televised college speech on crutches in Minnesota), no one would have thought of posing such a question, of me at least.

One conclusion comes out of all of this for sure: we are coming back to a world where family responsibility doesn’t wait for the decision to engage in the behavior that can lead to children. Maybe we never left it. We ought to be honest enough to admit it publicly.

Update: August 2

I reviewed the Cagn-Carbone book on my "Book Reviews" blog today.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Baseball calls for unit cohesion, too: The "other" Nationals seem to be envious of Strasburg's attention, and play absentmindedly

Back in June 1969, on the Saturday afternoon after Stonewall, I played in a softball game on a church retreat in the Shenandoah Valley at a place called Shrine Mont. I was over half way through my Army hitch, about to turn 26, and in the best shape of my life. I was first up in the top of the first inning, and I (righthanded) swatted at the first underhand left-hand toss and hit a real home run, over everything including a hedge that bounded left field (it wasn’t just a ground ball that rolled forever because of the lack of a fence). I pitched, and allowed a couple runs, and then in the bottom of the last inning (I guess the 7th), ahead 9-8, they moved me in from the outfield to second base because the other team’s power hitter came up. I am not a good fielder. Unfortunately, he hit a ground ball right to me, and it went through my legs, two runs scored, and “we” lost, 10-9.

More than other sports, baseball (and its popular backyard derivative, softball) expresses a certain social paradox, that conservative writers like George Will (and liberal filmmakers like Ken Burns) love to talk about. Baseball is simultaneously concerned with both individual performance (all those wonderful statistics that schoolboys knew in the 1950s but look up on today) and team well-being, the analogue to the military idea of “unit cohesion” that Bill Clinton accidentally forced us to learn about in 1993 (you know what issue – “don’t ask, don’t tell”).

Stephen Strasburg pitches tonight (July 27) as the slumping, even slobbering Washington Nationals return home to face the first place Atlanta Braves. The Washington Post this morning discussed the physics of Starsburg’s pitching and his genetic advantages that hopefully will protect him from injury. (I remember, from boyhood trips to Ohio, Cleveland Indians’s pitcher Herb Score, also a flame thrower, seriously derailed when he was struck by a batted line drive in early 1957, shortly before our family’s annual trip to the Cleveland area.)

Strasburg has won five games since joining the team June 8 (see my June 9 blog posting here), but that Nats have gone something like 15-26 in that period. The only other starter with some consistency is Livan Hernandez, and manager Jim Riggleman cleverly follows Strasburg with Hernandez the next day in the rotation, forcing opponents to adjust to an diametrically different pitching style. Now Herandez’s fast ball is slower that Strasburg’s change up, but when the veteran is in form, opposing teams seem more baffled by his slow stuff than by Strasburg’s fastballs, hitting endless grounders.

But the rest of the team is falling for the old all-too-human trap: when one guy gets all the attention, other guys envy it. They are playing distracted, making fielding and base running errors that have cost them 4 or 5 games during this period. I could say it’s immaturity, or it’s human nature. It’s Riggleman’s job to make sure the other players get over it. They were 20-15 at one point, and it’s true the had slipped a little before Strasburg came. But Starsburg cannot be their Savior. A good baseball team needs a top quality performer in every position. That means eight guys who hit the ball hard, field sharply, follow directions when base running, and a major-league caliber pitcher in every spot in the starting rotation and major league relievers. Strasburg cannot be better that other stars like Jiminez, Hudson, Cliff Lee, or C.C. Sabithia. (I’m afraid that if he is, he’ll he wearing Yankee pinstripes in six years.) True, the Nats have hit some hard luck with injuries to other pitchers who might be stars now: Patterson, Olson, and Jordan Zimmermann (due to return). They need a solid lefthanded starter.

And the Nats can’t fall for the stupidity of earlier Senators’ franchises of trading away their heavy hitters. (No, don’t give away Dunn or Willingham.)

Still, remember that baseball is a team sport. It has a trace of the military in it. Remember the old story from the 50s of the player who was told to sacrifice bunt, hit a home run, and was fined for disobeying orders. It is really like that.

First picture: from a game (lost) with Florida in April 2008.

Second: Old Griffith stadium, and a boyhood cardboard stadium for "board games" invented in Ohio in the mid 1950s.

Third: From a visit to the Navy Memorial Museum near the Archives in Washington today.


Strasburg may have injured his arm tonight during warmups, and was scratched. I talk about the Nats' hard luck with pitching, and look, it happens! They put in reliever Batista at the last minute, and got a 3-0 5-hit shutout win.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Police and security guards detain ordinary people taking pictures legally; do web postings create targets?

Police in various jurisdictions and local security guards (public and private) have been warning and sometimes detaining people to take pictures of public buildings and other facilities (like airports and railroads) legally, according to a Metro Section story in the Washington Post today Monday July 26, link here. The story is titled “Freedom of photography: police, security often clamp down despite public right”.

The article has some examples of pictures that have led to trouble, including one of railroad tracks from inside Union Station in Washington, similar to one I have taken at an Amtrak “National Train Day”.  Since the DC area Metro has encountered so many accidents, people may want to take pictures of accident sites and of the "scenic" Metro Yards north of Union Station, but Metro seems to be allowing this without complications.

Police and security guards have often not been trained on the law, and sometimes believe that they have the power to stop anyone whose photography activity could imaginably relate to terrorism.

The overwhelming majority of outdoor photos in Washington and New York are related to tourism or to subject matter that bloggers consider interesting for any number of innocuous reasons.

In March 2005, Reader’s Digest ran an article by Michael Crowley claiming that some people were publishing photos of vulnerable spots on buildings in order to make them targets for terrorists, and that any site that did so deliberately should be taken down. The title of the article was “Outrageous! Let’s shut them down! These websites are an invitation to terrorists,” in the magazine’s “Your America” series, link here----lets-shut-these-websites-down/article19203.html

There is a degree of common sense required in looking at this issue. Just because someone can take a picture of make up a scenario doesn’t mean that there is any real chance it can happen. (Look at the ending of the movie “Salt”; does it endanger the White House?)

There has been a controversy over taking pictures around oil industry facilities since the BP Deepwater Horizon accident drew journalists’ attention to BP’s history in the past. "Lone Star" journalist Lance Rosenfield (site) as detained by security forces after taking pictures near the Texas City refinery, as in this CNN report with Soledad O'Brien on Youtube


as originally shown in the "Gallagher Photo" news story here .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Digital long memories and "reputation bankruptcy": NY Times Mag article today

On page 30 of the July 25 New York Times Magazine, Jeffrey Rosen has a long and effective article “The End of Forgetting: Legal scholars, technologists and cyberthinkers are wrestling with the first great existential crisis of the digital age: the impossibility of erasing your posted past, starting over, moving on”. The printed copy shows partial “erasure” of the words toward the end. (Remember, in Clive Barker’s “Imajica”, an “Erasure” was a boundary of the universes of all conscious beings.) The online title is more succinct and blunt: “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” The link is here.

Rosen does discuss the book by Viktor Meyer-Schonberger, “Delete: The Value of Forgetting in the Digital Age”, which I reviewed on my Book Review blog May 13, 2010. But he explores the topic even further. He illustrates his argument with cute drawings of a power surge protector with the words “reset reputation” and a computer keyboard with a “Ctrl Identity” key, and even a mother board port marked “regrettable activity”.

He envisions something like a FICO Reputation Score, conceptually like a Credit Score, being developed and evolving from the ability of companies to aggregate computer cloud data about people, especially from Web 3.0 technologies, even evaluation their “popularity” not only from social networking sites but also from cell phone activity. It sounds rather Orwellian, rather like a private-industry Big Brother, which distorts libertarian aims while maintaining their form. That likewise brings up the idea of declaring “Reputation bankruptcy” (the article also coins the term “Twittergation”).

The article discusses the generational changes in the notions of privacy and public reputation, which we find full of paradoxes. Facebook, for example, is predicated on a desire of people to share things about themselves at different levels to different audiences, but presumes people still have sovereignty over whom they pick as “friends”. But the problem becomes a paradox: society can still use this information to enforce new kinds of conformity.

Particularly galling are various anecdotes about job firings (or offers not made) because employers gave undue weight to matter that, while true and often self-posted (and therefore not legally defamatory), would have seemed inconsequential by common sense to a reasonable person. The article, as had Meyer-Schonberger’s book, starts with the anecdote of would-be teacher Stacey Snyder, whose teacher’s college said her “drunken pirate” MySpace photo would encourage underage drinking of students (a rather ridiculous assertion it seems to me). (Actually, the college had been told by a school district that it would not accept student teachers unless the college punished her, and amazingly a federal court didn’t regard her photo as protected personal speech from a public employee  See earlier posting May 12 on this blog.)

Employers generally state their computer-use policies in terms of workplace computers and resources, but in practice have been eliminating job candidates and sometimes firing (or “doocing”) people based on personal profiles and blogs done at home. A few employers, even in government, have started developing social media policies and warning employees of the risks (as did the Census Bureau this year even for enumerators). Some government agencies have pre-publication review policies that sometimes extend to personal blogging and social networking.

The article mentions bars or clubs that now make members sign agreements not to blog about the goings on at the establishments. (Generally, in my experience, people take photos all the time at discos, so if you go to them, you need to be comfortable about the possibility that your photo, at least unnamed, could appear in anyone’s blog or social networking profile).

There are a lot of proposals as to how to fix these existential problems, and the consequences of any fix could be hard to see. One idea would be to develop a “safe harbor” provision for reputation (not just defamation) similar to that for copyright under the DMCA (that would modify the existing Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act). Extreme proposals could make it illegal to write online about anyone without permission – but them could you quote legitimate bibliographic sources? (I once had an issue with someone concerned about his mention in a footnote in the online version of my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book, fearful that it could cause him to be perceived unfavorably as “times change”, even though he had written the particular passage in a press release. So online, I changed his name to just initials, and the caches eventually dropped off.)

One could try to regulate employer use of underground Internet background investigations, but that would be hard to enforce since employers often don’t have to give reasons for not hiring or even firing. I’ve written that the HR industry needs to develop “best practices” for Internet background checking.  One practical concern is prospective: an employer could become concerned that someone will quit and write about them online afterwards (the "Food Lion Problem"). From my Internet search record, one could probably tell that I might make an effective CIA analyst or maybe a good AP calculus teacher, but not an insurance agent or grade school or special education teacher.

Rosen also discusses Meyer-Schonberger’s idea of technology to make computer files or blog postings expire automatically.

He gives some account of Michael Fertik and his company “Reputation Defender” (there is an illustration “you’re being Googled”) and concludes “Our character, ultimately, can’t be judged by strangers on the basis of our … profiles; it can be judged by only those who know us and have time to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, face to face and in context, with insight and understanding. In the meantime, as all of us stumble over the challenges of living in a world without forgetting, we need to learn new forms of empathy, new ways of defining ourselves without reference to what others say about us and new ways of forgiving one another for the digital trails that will follow us forever.”

Here's a review of Meyer-Schonberger's book in the London times, by James Larkin, link.  We must be allowed to forget.  But I remember a specific incident in the early 1990s about real world "long memories".  Sometimes it's just a matter of watching table manners.  Oh, all was "forgotten" in that incident a couple years later, too.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Everything in life is a two-way street: implicit content v. context, and the Sherrod affair

I noticed the “lonely heart’s” column on p C6 of the Thursday July 22 Washington Post, “Life hasn’t been fair? Focus on giving more?” by Carolyn Hax (link).

Advising volunteerism seems a little trite and even off-family, but there are some gem’s in her advice.

“the things so many people want most require others to come through for them. To be loved, someone has to love you; to be rich, someone has to pay you, etc. Hard work can be its own reward, sure, but when you're looking for cosmic payoff, it often doesn't feel like enough.” Indeed, her writing seems to come right out of Clive Barker’s Imajica, although I’m not sure I remember exactly where. I suppose this would have been a “pivotal teaching” of the Dominions – like “in any fiction … there is only room for three players.” You have to be able to count on people. You can’t make it completely on your own.

The Shirley Sherrod caper certainly reminds us how our speech and actions are so subject to the interpretations (and misinterpretations) of others, from their mindset rather than ours. Here we learn the danger from the “viral” nature of Internet postings and videos: a piece of a video is excerpted, and not even the White House bothers to look at the whole context of the blogger-supplied clip. It reminds us of how others can present us in a “false light” (a normally relevant concept in privacy law).

The administration choked on the blogger’s video excerpt, in a manner that reminds me of a school system’s spasms in dealing with the “meaning” of some of my own Internet content back in 2005 (that’s my July 27, 2007 posting). “Context”, however, is not quite the same concept as “implicit content”, which was more the issue in my situation. (See my Issues Blog for the details of Sherrod, Tuesday July 20.)

Update: On AC360 July 22, Anderson Cooper gave a lecture on how bloggers on both the Right and Left are throwing material up on the web that they know is false just to get web traffic. He named names (Breitbart) and interviewed Sherrod, whose words for Breitbard were not nice.  Cooper got into the nature of Truth (in journalism) with almost Rosenfels-like vocabulary.  I think he knows the Paul Rosenfels Communit.

Update: July 29: Kathryn Watson of the Washington Times reports that Shirley Sherrod will file defamation lawsuit against Andrew Breitbart for deliberately posting a portion of her speech with a misleading context. It's not clear that this meets the legal standards for defamation, however (just as in own case it's not clear that I committed "self-defamation"). The story link is here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"The Problem": the Individual, the Group; Personal responsibility, compassion

Yesterday, I introduced a posting on my “IT” blog with a metaphor comparing a “fire engine red” sports car (Mustang) showing up at the workplace off hours to the idea of a “big problem” or “The Problem.” In film about issues, you always start with a visual image of something.

More than anything else, for me, “The Problem” is the tension between my being my own person, very publicly, and my being a member of a group, and willingness to incorporate the group’s goals as my own. That “group” is often construed as “the natural family”, but then there is the idea that everyone is your neighbor. I suppose that conventional Christianity maintains that solidarity with the family unit leads to solidarity with a larger community, but that is certainly a debatable idea (however well it may have worked for the early Christians).

A corollary problem occurs because the Internet (as did other technologies before it, to a lesser extent) allows someone like me to develop my own reputation and articulate my own message, with the risk that it might be taken as a negative reflection of the family or community from which I came. In this view, someone like me should not be heard from until I’ve taken formal responsibility for other people, preferably by having and keeping a stable family of my own. This is the “privilege of being listened to” problem.

Propensity to orient oneself toward the aims of the group makes “sacrifice” more acceptable, and seems like an important adjustment to the real world view that life cannot both be always “fair” and “free” at the same time. A “family” mindset seems an essential ingredient of a sustainable and locality-driven future. At the same time, some people tend to remain more distant in interpersonal or familial matters (often choosing not to marry and to remain childless) and have the self-discipline to produce valuable output when working largely alone. This is particularly true in the arts and sciences. It’s only right, then, to consider “rules of engagement”, expectations outside those usually implemented naturally by a market economy, that set moral priorities. In recent years, the emphasis has been on owning up to the consequences of one’s own chosen acts (especially acts capable of procreation). But in earlier generations “moral responsibility” was definitely a more collective notion, having to do with shared values and goals and their perceived integrity, and demanded that everyone had some interpersonal responsibility for other generations, regardless of “choices.” Demographics and increased eldercare seem to be bringing that idea back. For someone coming from my libertarian mindset, that evolved when times were better, it’s hard to advocate the need for “rules”, but without them one is subject to the whims of others ‘perceptions. In a sense, that becomes “The Problem.”

There is something about my “view set” that disturbs some people. I turn a deaf ear to pleas to join other people’s “causes” when it seems to me that lack of individual performance contributes a lot to the plight of some identifiable people. In that sense, objectivism appeals to me, and I do tend to see the world in terms of “producers” and “second handers” as in Ayn Rand. This sounds like a lack of personal compassion, but I flip it as just a desire to see “personal responsibility” and a recognition that there must be consequences when it isn’t taken. (Those consequences can run away into dark places without compassion, however; look at history.) I don’t oppose a public policy that is in place and that I know works reasonably well. If I lived in Europe, I would not perceive European health care policies as “socialistic” just because they may appear that way ideologically to American conservatives and libertarians. I would probably accept the policy as well-established practice and no longer socially controversial.

What tends to happen is that people will approach me to adapt their causes (rather than mine, which seem so abstract), and then complain that I am hostile to or contemptuous of them when I refuse. This sort of thing happens more often in “harder times”; in better times, harmlessness does not harm. We get dragged back to the reality of owning others’ problems in a personal way. It’s particularly provocative when one has broadcast oneself on the Internet or elsewhere, demonstrating knowledge and the ability to “connect the dots” (or “keep ‘em honest”) as if for its own sake, and then shunning “relationships” suddenly demanded by others. Once one has broadcast oneself, it seems, one has lost the right to exercise “Consent.” That seems to be the real problem.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In separate cases, plaintiffs and prosecutors seek identities of anonynous blog posters, comment authors and senders of email; questions on privacy and "reach" of information posed

A lawsuit in New York by Miriam and Michael Hersh regarding business interests had led to subpoenas to Yahoo! and Google requesting the identities of over 30 apparently anonymous bloggers, as well as email account holders and commenters on websites regarding business matters of the plaintiffs. A story from Electronic Frontier Foundation posted July 14 maintains “EFF Urges Court to Block Dragnet Subpoenas Targeting Online Commenters: Privacy and Anonymity at Risk in New York Conspiracy Suit.” The link is (website url) here, and includes a link to a motion to quash the subpoenas. EFF maintains that anonymity of speakers is protected by the First Amendment, and that the subpoena creates a chilling effect.

There is also a convoluted situation in the 11th Circuit where a prosecutor subpoenaed the emails of a whistleblower disclosing information about a hospital in Georgia, with an article by Cindy Cohn, “Court fails to protect privacy of whistleblower’s email”, link (web url) here.  Again there is a philosophical question about how “public” information connected with an email sent to a small list of people is, when the logical possibility exists that the information can be circulated, but the practical probability does not (yesterday’s discussion).

A Canadian stie called "Slaw" reports a story by Omar Ha-Redeye about possible blogger anonymity suits coming to Canada here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Publication to friends' lists is not the same as open blogging

Back in the mid 1990s, when I was editor of the gay libertarian newsletter called “The Quill” (from Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty, GLIL, archive link ), we debated the issue of how to distribute a physical publication, and some people thought that an electronic distribution through a listserver was sufficient. That debate illustrated an issue common in the privacy debate today:

Material published just to a known subscription list tends to be more specific in nature and often more “personal” (even to the point of including PII) than material published for “everyone”. Magazines and newspapers have a mix of these paradigms, as most have paid subscribers, but also sell hardcopies to everyone. In the Internet age, that means most make some content available on line to everyone and maybe more content for paid subscribers; most sell hardcopies in public venues for everyone and offer their publications to libraries.

If you have a Facebook account and enter your Facebook account name into a search engine, a limited public profile will show up.  (Mine is here.) It will enumerate some Friends, show some favorite movies and interests, your portrait. Similar results occur with Myspace, or with professional profile sites like LinkedIn.

If you regularly publish on the web and don’t limit search engine robots, generally a lot of your “stuff” will come up, according to whatever real names, nicknames or pseudonyms you ordinarily use.

Of course this gets to the subject of online reputation and personal security that has been covered before, but it’s important to know that use of social networking sites presents slightly different, although related, risks and benefits compared to most blogging and publishing on conventional sites.

Generally, people are getting the message of social networking privacy, and tend to use some privacy controls. That means they are likely to say things of a more specific nature to “friends” than to everyone. A similar idea applies with Twitter, where most tweets are seen mainly by followers. The practical danger is similar to that of the physical world: malicious people could pose as “friends” (resulting in home security issues, as has happened already); or, more often, specific information gets repeated to non-friends and winds up circulating to employers, enemies, etc, or gets posted by third parties to other places on the Internet. Facebook’s history is particularly interesting because originally it was limited to specific campuses and had originally started in an environment where speakers were likely to encounter other readers in person on one campus.

It is possible to limit the readership of blogs and flat sites to known subscribers, but in practice most blogs and personal sites are left open to everyone, including search engine robots. Most prudent bloggers limit personal information that they disclose on public blogs and hopefully are wise to issues like defamation and copyright infringement. Blog content hopefully is more “issue driven” and less “person driven” that content made available only to friends on social networking sites.

The concept of “everyone” vs. restricted subscription lists could have implications for policies set by employers, or also for rules set by parents for household members. They could eventually become legally important, if the law moves into a direction of frowning on “gratuitous publication” by people in some situations. For example, content made known only to a known list might be less “gratuitous” (even though it has risks and even though one cannot really know hundreds of “friends” well), than publication made available to search engines, and content for which enough money is paid (either directly or through royalties) to support a family might be seen as less “gratuitous”. First amendment considerations might emphasize the distinction between an established “press” and “amateur” open speakers, and might stress more the protections for assembly and more collective redress action.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

US says "Perfect Citizen" cybersecurity program will not interfere with ordinary citizen's privacy or speech

Would the president be breaking a promise if he encourages the National Security Agency and Homeland Security to develop a “Perfect Citizen” program to watch for anomalies in the power grid and in some parts of the public Internet for symptoms of a cyber attack? The need for such monitoring would increase with a “smart grid” that would use the Internet more to regulate energy consumption and expose the power grid to connection points that hackers could conceivably attack.

The controversial Wall Street Journal appeared July 8 2010 and is authored by Siobham Gorman, link here.

The government insists that it will not monitor the energy use of ordinary citizens (there used to be predictions of such even during Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s). Nor will it inspect ordinary Internet emails, blog postings, tweets, social networking or financial transactions.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plagiarism scandal affects a political race in Colorado; I thought pols didn't write their own speeches!

Well, academic integrity and copyright have affected a political campaign. In Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis has been accused of plagiarism in a 1994 column, a 1995 speech, and portions of a 2004 essay. I thought that politicians had their speeches written for them (the “we give you the words” idea of sales culture) and everybody understood.

The story appeared Thursday July 15 in The Washington Times, front page, by Valerie Richardson, link here.

It would be flattering to be plagiarized by a right wing politician.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When out and about, stumbling on a CCC relic in VA: regimentation is the answer to economic troubles?

Today, on route 675 crossing East Massanutten Mountain (from the Fort Valley), I stumbled upon Camp Roosevelt NF-1 (link), the first of the Civilian Conservation Corps established in 1933 during the “Great Depression”. The site is in the George Washington National Forest, and there are a couple of posters showing the pictures of barracks that the manual laborers lived in.

That was the answer to economic depression back in the 1930s. Encourage young men to sign up for a military-style regimented life doing public works (here rather low tech, basic things).

Now, "they" (both the conservatives opposing Obamacare, etc, and the liberals wanting a waterproof safety net) we face a “Long Depression.” The lessons of the past should stay with us. Remember the Maoist cultural revolution of the 60s was supposed to promote “absolute justice.” Forget a free market economy, everybody pays his dues.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Blizzard gaming site tries force users to display real names in forums, then relents

Electronic Frontier Foundation has an interesting take on Blizzard (a gaming site) requiring users to use real names on their forums, inasmuch as how their identities would be posted. (This would be accomplished by the "Real ID System" here.) The link for the article by Eva Galperin is here.

EFF disputes the idea that, when given access to anonymity, perfectly normal adults will start flaming. Oh, it sometimes seemed like that on AOL ten years ago.

On the other hand, Facebook has promulgated the idea that “you have only one identity” (personal and professional life integrate, even for members of the military), and lately career coaches have been suggesting that professionals develop well-integrated web presence and abstain from anonymity, as on trash talk boards.

Blizzard, at last report, just dropped the identity disclosure policy. (Remember the movie “Identity”?)

I couldn’t find the policy or the retraction, but the Forum guidelines (as for World of Warcraft) are quite detailed as to conduct expected, as with this link.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Quantum ethics" (and older moral notions)

“Quantum ethics” sounds like a useful term to summarize the direction our “culture wars” is headed, for me at least.

Consider the practical reality that in most cultures (if only partially so now in modern western culture) married parents work to make all of their children feel bonded to the family and to some extent their surrounding local community. That means an interesting in being part of something – including biologically – more permanent than oneself, and it sounds “collectivistic” even if most of us buy the idea that a good family upbringing is essential to providing free and self-motivated individuals.  This line of thought does relate to notions like the "natural family" of Carlson and Mero, or of Rick Warren's "purpose-driven life" and the mantra "it's not about you." Even the Rosicrucians sometimes maintain that periods between "incarnations" are experienced in a group consciousness.

Bonding to the group accepts the idea that life is not always “fair” down to every individual, and accepting that seems necessary first for team play but later even to conceive of pursuing human rights and equality as we usually understand them today. But in an immediate sense, every individual has to live with an “uncertainty principle.”

Modern notions of moral problems tend to focus in assigning accountability and responsibility for individual acts (e.g. the BP oil spill still comes down to mistakes of particular individuals). But in earlier times they had a lot to do with fitting in to a community that had to continue itself as a whole.

One way to view earlier paradigms for moral thinking is to reflect on the concern that people not only start out at different places in line, but people tend to benefit from the unseen sacrifices of others. One way to mitigate this concern is to expect every individual to “pay your dues”, outside of what normally follows from a market economy.  If "station in life" means something and ought to be earned rather than assigned by fortunes of birth circumstance, then everyone should share certain kinds of intergenerational responsibility.

That gets back to what happened in my life: I had some specific intellectual and musical talents, but was sometimes hindered from deploying them because I wasn’t showing that I could compete to provide for a wife and (continued) family. In fact, a lot of what led to my college expulsion and “therapeutic” followup had to do with my disinterest in the natural and social activities of procreation and reproduction.

Recently I read the article “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths” in Time Magazine, July 8, 2010, abridged version link here . The full article stressed that only children (which I am) sometimes to achieve superior intellectual or artistic performance as individuals, but society seems to regard excess intellect in such circumstances as a pejorative, if it comes at the expense of socialization and compassion. What is good for an individual is not so good for society if it isn’t sustainable.

The article also discussed the economic pressures that led to more only children and to fewer children, including the idea that a technological society gives people (especially women and gay men) other outlets besides family life, disincentivizing family-centeredness and perhaps using socialistic handling of some issues (like end-of-life care) to give certain kinds of people a false sense of freedom, at the risk to long term social stability. This is the now well known “demographic winter” problem.

In my case, I was particularly driven into my own pursuits by being humiliated socially in the tween years when expected to “compete” with other boys in a conventional way, and I sometimes mixed up “competition” with “teamwork”. (Think how this plays out in baseball.) But I would resent anyone expecting intimacy from me on terms other than my own. If I had been humiliated as to my “gender deficit” (to quote anti-gay author Nicolosi), then I really didn’t want anybody looking at me as a father figure (as when substitute teaching) except on very carefully or narrowly drawn circumstances. That provides a certain irony (or again “quantum uncertainty” or twin paradox) with the idea of political and personal “equality”: I might get it in the law, and then resist really using it.

My most important goal in writing (my books and web pages) has been to get people to understand how our social moral foundation used to get built, as people today seem to have forgotten this completely. In the past, family responsibility came from being in a community; it wasn’t the result of a chosen act of sexual intercourse (as it is perceived today); it was flipped around; access to sexuality was granted to carry out responsibility and conferred authority over others (which could be abused). And the sustainability concerns today (especially the “demographic winter” issue) may take us back into that moral space. Gay marriage and allowing gays to serve openly in the military may actually work in synergy with bringing back the older idea of social contract.

But, of course, there is a disingenuity (if not hypocrisy) in making oneself visible without taking on the risks and responsibilities than others take, leading to the situation where others feel tempted to “dare” the speaker with challenges to accept unwelcome responsibility. For example, I might be manipulated into a situation where it’s actually essential that I be willing to function competitively as a new parent of other people’s children (without having engaged in the specific acts that could have created the responsibility), and then perform vocationally according to conventional competitive norms for men with families, such as manipulating others to buy things and giving up my own style of journalism.

In fact, the only way I could be a good role model is to finish what I started, to take the idea of a “do ask do tell” brand to its logical outcome.

Friday, July 09, 2010

AOL advises members about online reputation, with a beginner's guide

AOL has a bread-and-butter article about online reputation this morning (July9), mentioning Michael Fertok and Reputation Defender, and discussing the way some unsavory interests aggregate information from the web and even the telephone white pages (creating security problems), here. The article is titled "What People Can Find Out About You Online" -- including "strangers" (or maybe "strangelets").

Who’s Looking You Up, Why it Matters and How to Take Control
It recommends taking a pro-active approach, making sure that the most positive information appears first in search engines, as well as watching what people write on your walls on Facebook or how your profile comes across.

There is a problem in that employers and others are getting lazy, sometimes replacing formal background checks with “online checks” that are likely to be inaccurate and misleading.

Celebrities hire media firms to polish their online images. Some younger media figures, like Ashton Kutcher, are very well known in their ability to project image on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter with their own effort. (His Myspace blog always has a lot of real substance; today there’s video clip from “Valentine’s Day” costar Cater Jenkins).

Picture: I'm out of the coffin corner, materialized in a Radio Shack store. No underage drinking here.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Introducing a company that takes on social media marketing best practices and "insidious competition" -- a bit like the online reputation issue, maybe

I got an email from a publicist for competitive strategy consultant Richard Telofski about running a piece “The Silent Killers in Social Media Never Die”.

I found Mr. Telofski on Facebook in connection with a page “Social Media Marketing Best Practices” with this link. Of course, I encourage Facebook users to log on and visit this page.

I also found that he has a company Kahuna Content. His services page gives a good view of what he does (link) with such offerings as “irregular competitor whiteboard service” and “competitive chatter analysis service” which is trademarked.

The piece enclosed in the email discusses particularly an expectation that the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will lead to much longer lasting impact on BP with investors and the public than did the Exxon Valdez oil spill, because social media will keep the heat on BP. He also adds peer-to-peer communications as another facility that can prolong the reputational difficulties of any company or even individual. This sounds to me like an extension of the “online reputation defense” issue already explored (and a source of business for entrepreneurs like Michael Fertik).

I’m going to publish his piece as a “comment” below. Here is the one link he gives, to Greenpeace’s pace on the Redesign of BP’s logo, here.

Telofski also mentions his book “Insidious Competition: The Battle for Meaning and the Corporate Image”, link here.  It’s from iUniverse (a cooperative publisher) and it is a little pricey. I’ll take another look at it soon, as I have a Book Reviews blog.

The publicist is Lynn N. Coppotelli  of.SMITH PUBLICITY.

Update: (later July 8)

Some visitors are having trouble seeing the third comment. It links to a paper on Palo Alto Networks, "Enterprise 2.0 Applications: Block or Not?" link here.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Webmasters should monitor the ratings their sites get as to safety

Webmasters should maintain awareness of a number of services that rate websites as to safety (likelihood of malware presence, whether intentional or not) and popularity.

Today Webroot announced that it was purchasing Bright Cloud, which has a website reputation page here.  You can try it with – I’m flattered that it is listed as popular. However my blogs (including this one) have a popularity of “not high.” The site is rated as to a number of security issues, and a map is shown given the geographical location of the ISP host. Dark green is the best color, but light green is OK (they are going green).

McAfee Site Advisor is pretty well known, showing ratings on searches (it’s euphemism for low popularity is “a few users”), as is now the (Panda) Web of Trust plug-in for Mozilla, which may be the most user friendly. (Go to “Mywot” here). “Popular” sites may be viewed by some as safer as there is more public experience with them, but looks can be deceiving.

Google itself has a safe-browsing tool with which a webmaster can check out his or her site(s), as for example here.

As a general matter, “online reputation” now incorporates Internet safety reputation of one’s work (as I have a separate blog “Bill’s Internet Safety Tips”). And the recent stories of SQL injection attacks (with fake antivirus software or scareware) on some corporate sites don’t make one rest easy.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Maryland may rewrite its constitution -- will voters call a "constitutional conventional" (sic)?: Days of my Screed

The Washington Post has a front page story on Monday July 5 on Maryland’s upcoming vote on whether to hold a state constitutional convention. The main story (accompanied online by a blog entry) is by Aaron C. Davis with link here.

Maryland’s current constitution goes back to about 1867, and has a lot of post Civil War chestnuts. And apparently Thomas Jefferson thought that a constitution needed rewriting about every twenty years. Sort of a law of the "Fifth Dominion."

The whole story is interesting to me because in my “screed book” I brought the topic up several times. The last section of my last chapter is called “A ‘constitutional’ convention”, where I took a cut at a “Bill of Rights 2” (yeah, like the Bill of Rights could become a movie franchise for some company like Warner Brothers, or maybe HBO).

But in an earlier chapter I had discussed the extreme indignation of the radical Left in the early 1970s, and the call of the Peoples Party of New Jersey back then for a “constitutional conventional” (sic). Yup, I mistyped it and that was one big catch from the proofreader. I still remember that.

At the time, in the mid and late 90s, some of the topics brought up in the “screed”, such as the effect of the draft and the get-outs with student deferments, and the relationship to today’s debate on the military gay ban and “don’t ask don’t tell” were a surprise to people.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

College application essays are like newspaper columns, are like blog postings!

On Friday July 2, in the Living Section of the Washington Post, p 14, in the “Family” and “class struggle” (pun) column, Jay Matthews wrote a piece “Words to the wise about writing college application essays”, link here.

He starts by talking about a column-writing course for seniors in the English department of a northern Virginia private high school, and then says that the coy purpose is to help students write their college application essays, because such essays are a lot like columns, “little bits of persuasive prose designed to be both personal and instructive, without too much wear-and-tear on the reader.” That’s a relief to him; he doesn’t need more competition from the kids in his professional journalism career.

The application essay should add something unique to the package, he says, and not reiterate what the reader already knows. The same seems to be true of effective blog posts, which generally add some personal relevance to events that may already have been reported in the public media.

It’s interesting to compare his view of the blog post or column with what Facebook does, which is, in large part, personalize the news that you get when you log on.

Picture: the new Washington-Lee in Arlington VA, not the school mentioned in the post

Friday, July 02, 2010

Judge orders that US Copyright Group give fair notice to individual defendants

There is a result back already on the mass litigation against P2P downloaders by the US Copyright group.

Federal judge Rosemary M. Collyer said that "defendants might not have a fair opportunity to raise legal objections" and ordered USCG and other subplaintiffs such as Time Warner to come up with a scheme to notify individual defendants and give them a chance to file objections, including jurisdictional ones. The Digital Wire storyv by Mark Hefflinger is here.

Both Webroot (through Twitter) and EFF have been advising followers of the progress of the litigation.

It sounds as though USGC wanted to use the threat of mass settlements of huge amounts to force unaware defendants to settle suddenly (upon receiving phone calls) for smaller amounts. RIAA had used those tactics, of sudden telephone settlement demands (similar to calls from bill collectors but without the mini-miranda wanring).

I was a little surprised to find the "Legal News" story by IANS, "‘The Hurt Locker’ producers prepare piracy lawsuit", May 12, 2010, link here.  I am serious about starting a "campaign" to sell my own movie idea soon, but I can't imagine wanting to be part of litigation like this, even on the plaintiff's side.  Legitimate achievements in the movies and media will always pay their own way eventually.  I certainly do support rental and subscription services to make media available inexpensively and legally.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Facebook gives users more direct privacy controls in application use -- "asking and telling" or "asking and receiving"

Facebook has announced an “asking and telling” or more properly “asking and receiving” policy for privacy controls when Facebook users access external applications or “Facebook-integrated” websites. It calls the policy a "simplified permissions launch".

The new controls will take place when you log on to an application from your Facebook account. It will be allowed to access only the public parts of your profile until you give specific permissions otherwise.

Facebook’s blog has a writeup here.

It gives an example with a greeting card application, jihjab.

A Webroot tweet informed followers of this development early this morning.

I’m still impressed by the overall philosophy of Facebook, to take what used to be a publishing and self-broadcast concept for web use and turn it into a process to get direct “social results.” Strategically, this could have long term impact on the “implicit content” problem.