Saturday, January 29, 2011

Righthaven files many cases in Colorado; new site keeps tabs on the matter

It appears that Righthaven has filed nineteen cases in Colorado, most or all of them at the end of last week (Jan. 27).  It has filed one in South Carolina.  The suits span the Ninth, Tenth, and Fourth Circuits.  The total count of cases on Justia is now 228.

A writer named Ken has a detailed account on a blog called “One Utah”, here.  Ken believes that Righthaven, while shaking people down, does poorly when cases actually go to court because the legal basis for the suits (champerty) is questionable.  He also believes that newspapers that align themselves with Righthaven may be putting themselves in longer term jeopardy.

There is another site keeping a tab on Righthaven, prosaically named “RightHaven Lawsuits”, here. The ownership connections with Stephens and other media interests could actually support Righthaven’s claims of legitimate standing to sue.

Readers may want to check the Denver Post’s policy statement (website url) here.   I notice that the Post seems to consider posting only a “summary” of a story, without other comment or criticism, not fair use (in other words, mere “rewriting” is not fair use).   

I’m now well into Tim Wu’s “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires”, will review it soon, and I wonder if this Righthaven thing is another battle in “The Cycle.” 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Master Card may default "voluntarily" to the terms of COICA, even with no law, in cutting off sites.

This week, EFF has pointed out the disappointment of Master Card’s implicit support of COICA.   EFF’s articles get reproduced a lot (in these days of Righthaven); for example Julie Sanuel’s EFF article was republished quickly at LinuxBSDos, here

I found an earlier piece from December by Peter Bright at Ars Technica on the same subject, link here.     There are three main areas where credit card companies feel pressure from government: piracy, Wikileaks, and pornography  or adult services, especially c.p.  

COICA, as often pointed out, could deny legitimate websites due process in the face of accusations, and there are definite areas of gray in how a lot of music sites operate.

There are concerns that MasterCard (and perhaps other credit companies like Visa and Amex) would cut off payments under “moral hazard” pressure even without legal requirements, to companies like RapidShare and Megaupload, if they are seen as largely involved in facilitating infringement.  And recently a Tech Conference in Washington raised the issue of increasing pressure to bring back downstream liability responsibility.
COICA was shot dead at the end of the last Congress but seems likely to come back. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

PC World answers paranoia about Facebook; will we find Facebook in extraterrestrial civilizations?

Here’s a cute story on p. 33 of the February 2011 PC World by Logan Kugler, “The Paranoid’s Guide to Facebook”, link here.

Probably one of the biggest issues is that many apps need your personal information, and even though they have agreed not to use it, it’s hard to police them.  Another problem is that your app activity shows up to all your Friends.  The article also describes the ultimate self-exile from Facebook. It’s like Catfish, go to upper Michigan.
Facebook is reportedly considering protecting its password signon with encryption (https).  That’s because rogue programs like Firesheep are making it more dangerous to use in free WiFi locations. One wonders even if home network routers could be vulnerable, inasmuch as cable and wireless companies promote them and their range is getting pretty strong (sometimes in the hundreds of yards); they should have the highest level of security and require signon (if your ISP will provision your service that way).  I think that Facebook (and Twitter) should take a heed from EFF and Firefox and deploy  an encrypted signon quickly.  (Google does provide encrypted signon.) 

As I noted on my IT employment blog Sunday, Facebook's (that is, Zuckerberg's) paradigm for an open society is definitely creating ethical dilemmas for employers, who feel compelled to judge candidates on everything that they share on Facebook, and moreover, of what their Friends (especially with tagged images) share about them. It seems like the idea of a private "Second Life" has melted away (even given the website of that name).  There will be Facebook on the Moon, on Mars, Europa and Titan, and even on Gliese 581-G.  Zuckerberg will figure out a way to use telepathy to get past the speed of light barrier.  Dolphins and Orcas will have Facebook pages (they're actually smart enough, since they can recognize their own faces in mirrors). If you get abducted by extraterrestrials, expect to be able use your Facebook account even on their home planet.  (I'm not comparing Zuckerberg to V's Anna; others, like Chris Hughes, Sean Parker et all, had a lot to do with this.)  Maybe there is Facebook in the Afterlife (in a parallel, even weakless universe).  "Knowing" is everything. 

Wikipedia attribution link to recent map of Titan ("69 Minutes away"); expect Facebook in your hotel room in Shangri-La there.

Update: Jan 27

The Washington Post (Hayley Tsukayama) reports that Facebook will definitely introduce encrypted https logon  Jan. 26 or 27 link here.  So far, my recalled unsecured signon works. I'll play with the https soon.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Champerty": a new vocabulary word, for bloggers as well as SAT's

A Second Amendment site named Ammoland (“The Armed Citizen, Armed with Knowledge”) has an account of its own brush with Righthaven, link here. The gist of the article is “ But a lawyer in Nevada decided there was a gold mine in suing mom-and-pop blogs for money. Unfortunately, it wasn’t our battle to fight. There was too much to lose, so we settled. Our fans were awesome with the donations, we didn’t lose a penny in the end. But we still hope Righthaven’s litigious little jihad comes to an end very soon.”  
In other words, they had to give in to a shakedown, legal extortion, a kind of bullying. That is indeed how it looks. Do the newspapers object to the copying, or just to low-cost, no-overhead competition? Again, “free entry” is at stake.
Another site ("pak")  of Azkar Choudhry) has filed a counterclaim accusing Righthaven of “champerty” (legal definition here  ), or an arrangement where a party with no standing in a lawsuit supports it financially in order to share in the profits. (It’s not in Word’s thesaurus.)  It still is unclear what the courts will say about this.  Do “property rights” allow reassignment of “standing” for such pursuits?
English teachers (and maybe government teachers), you have another vocabulary word for the kids. It ought to make the SOL's. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Salt Lake Tribune joins Righthaven troll; EFF notes new concerns about downstream liability in Washington DC

A newsletter in Utah, the City Weekly, has an article by Jesse Fruhwirth, “Don’t Get Sued by the Trib”, link here,   referring to an explicit warning by the Salt Lake Tribune, which is joining the Denver Post and Las Vegas Journal Review in using Righthaven to file retroactive “troll” lawsuits on bloggers after purchasing stories.

The story also refers to a battle in Utah where the LDS-controlled Deseret News is trying to block competing newspapers from printing Associated Press content. (The AP has threatened bloggers, too, but that hasn’t been going anywhere lately; but original AP-site stories that you link to tend to become archived and expire.)
The Salt Lake Tribune says it has no objection to “fair use” of its stories by bloggers. Righthaven has lost one case in court to a fair use claim.

The article gives some guidelines to what is “safe” (Marathon Man, have you), and refers to Las Vegas Sun coverage. It says paraphrasing is OK, but some news outlets say their stories may not be "rewritten". Be careful about image or video embeds that did not come from the newspaper itself (I wonder still about YouTube embeds from others).

The article reports warnings that anyone (any blogger or message board user) who has reprinted news stories from any of these papers (or even major excerpts) without permission is likely to be sued by Righthaven soon.

On Jan. 19, Electronic Frontier Foundation published a brief op-ed “Fuzzy Boundaries: The Impact of Vague Secondary Liability Doctrines on Technology Innovation”, link here.  This is a response to an upcoming paper by Paul Szynol at a Tech Freedom “The Next Digital Decade” conference in Washington DC.  The existential threats of secondary downstream liability to “free entry” have been well covered here. The threats here seem non-specific. The EFF paper makes a comparison to secondary liability in rust belt industries, like auto, where they can easily stifle innovation.

But imagine the mess if Righthaven wanted to go after the companies that facilitate the copyright infringement. But that’s exactly what the DMCA safe harbor is supposed to stop. But safe harbor protects the service providers, not the speakers. That’s a point we still have to delve into.

It’s interesting to me how the recent hit film “The Green Hornet” poses the question, should anyone own the news?  Nope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

When should people be made to "seek help"? It's a dangerous question

There is plenty of debate on whether professors, neighbors, friends, whoever else, should have gotten Jared Loughner “help”.  Certainly, the his mug shots with their absolute alopecia (self-imposed) look grotesque enough.  Authorities are going back through his YouTube and Myspace postings and finding reasons to discern his derangement. 

I can understand that the Pima community college decided his video was over the top (given the accusations it makes), but now the video now makes a point: you post at your own risk, and others may make unfounded (or well founded) judgments about you based on the content of your posts.  We’ve talked a lot about this before, as part of the “online reputation” problem. Schools need to pay a lot more attention to teaching it.

Given the cultural norms of a community in a particular period of history, a person’s cohort can decide that a person’s statements or behavior are unacceptable and demonstrate a need for “help”.  As I explained in an earlier post here Nov. 28, 2006, the College of William and Mary back in the fall of 1961 decided that my “behavior” was potentially self-destructive and unreasonable. That determination could not have been made in more modern times.

Nevertheless, I remember the horror of the moment. I remember a Dean of Men telling me, “You don’t want any Eastern State psychiatrists” when I just wanted a “signoff” so I could come back to school.  I wound up going to George Washington University and “living at home”.  But then I was “quasi-hospitalized” in Unit 3 West at the National Institutes of Health, Clinical Center, from July 1962 to January 1963, allowed to go to GW in the evenings “on pass”.  (I was the only “patient” so allowed; so I was the only patient who knew about the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.  What a time this was.)

It has been easy for me to pooh-pooh the subject of mental health over the years.  It’s easy to attribute it to prejudice and ignorance. There were plenty of euphemisms around. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”  Oh, really?  How are you feeling, mentally?

In more recent years, given the way my eldercare situation unfolded and developed (I’ll have more details about this soon), I’ve developed more appreciation for what those therapists back in 1962 were really getting at, despite all their flaws (including smoking during individual therapy sessions; I’ve never smoked).  They were worried about overinvestment in “fantasy”, and in the ability to make the fascinations of the moment (as sometimes found in what psychologists call “part-objects”) into whole internal worlds.  (I can see how this connects to the psychological underbelly of the two-decades debate on gays in the military.)  The typewritten notes on my care (I have all my medical records from 1962 from NIH) are quite graphic on the particulars of this.   On a certain level of theoretical physics, I guess, “dreams” and “fantasy” have a realness “somewhere else”; perhaps some day we will prove that “cold souls” can jump between universes (by changing space-time) even though ordinary matter and energy cannot.  (Hint: take religious concerns about the Afterlife seriously!)  Nevertheless, the explosion in the need for eldercare and the calls for “resocialization” because of “sustainability” concerns, make me question the moral validity of the “schizoid personality” and his situation; his life means nothing until it meets the real needs of other people. I wasn’t ready to do that at NIH, and sometimes it seems I’m barely much more ready to do that today.  Employers with needs for people with esoteric mental skills, say in intelligence work, have to grapple with this all the time.  People who are too eccentric and lost in their own worlds may present the (totally unpredictable, as Dr. Phil said on AC360) “lone wolf” danger, but sometimes (as agencies like the CIA know) they are the only people with the peculiar talents to do the work necessary.  But to “not need a relationship” is not such a good thing, it seems.

So much for today’s non-poetic ramblings.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Project Management for plans for my own "Do Ask Do Tell"

Well, my plans to make “Do Ask Do Tell” into a viable content franchise (movies, etc) could use some formal project management.

In my current situation, I have a part time job where I work some weeks and not others.  In general, I believe I can be “productive” and focused 76 hours a week. This includes time to make my content suitable for third-party agenting (Hollywood’s notorious “Third Party Rule”), maintaining the blogs, and reformatting and streamlining my web presence so that it “sells”.

The items that most affect my work with third parties include:

(1)(1)    The novel “Brothers”
(2)(2)    The sequel sci-fi screenplay to my “Titanium” film (it’s two movies)
(3)(3)    The five-part non-fiction “Do Ask Do Tell III” that brings all of my “philosophy” up to date.
(4) (4)   Restructuring of the websites and blogs

In general, I think I can complete (1) by Feb. 14, (2) by March 14, (3) by April 11 (with publication online and perhaps a formal e-book) (4) by May 16.  After that, I would be ready to “talk business”.

My own “week” runs Monday through Sunday so that a weekend is exactly that (a contiguous Saturday night, perhaps on a disco floor).

There will be some travel – to my old haunts of Dallas and Minneapolis (when it gets warmer), and then probably LA, maybe London.  But one has to be productive on the Road and use the Cloud.
The blogs will eventually pare down. A few of them don’t have but a couple entries per month. Generally, starting in February, blog postings will have a narrower focus, with less regurgitation of facts, and more connecting of dots.  They will focus on the more critical problems, such as (1) keeping the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (already challenged) (2)  some of the existential challenges to Web speech, such as copyright trolling (and the confusion over how speakers can protect themselves, as with Safe Harbor)  (3) sustainability, especially with respect to demographics as well as environmental and public health issues (4) asymmetry.

My own emotional locus is “different” from that of other persons; it is experienced in music and ideas before it reaches people.  I always believed it was important to become “productive” on one’s own before expecting a “relationship”, and the freedom to call one’s own shots became the modern mode of moral self-advancement, as well as mental and physical health.  It is the way I became effective (with the Web and universal search, passive self-promotion) that made me understand older ways of seeing things, when personal purposes were always defined by the needs of others.

Post script:   I like whiffleball, so I thought this Bing video was entertaining (25 seconds), getting ready for Sping Training and MLB, while I work my "project".  Yup, I wonder if Stephen Strasburg is throwing again.

<br /> <a href=";rel=msn&amp;from=en-us_msnhp&amp;form=msnrll&amp;gt1=42007&amp;src=v5:embed:&amp;fg=sharenoembed" target="_new" title="Pitcher throws wicked wiffle ball curves">Video: Pitcher throws wicked wiffle ball curves</a>

Friday, January 14, 2011

Now, Righthaven sues message board posters, no chance at all of DMCA safe harbor warning first

The Righthaven saga continues.  Now, two individual posters on message boards have been sued. The defendants are James Higgins (for a story on Google Groups) and Wayne Hoehn for a post on madjacksports, ironically in a post that reportedly copied a story about public employee pensions, something I write about a lot on my retirement blog.

Righthaven also now has one suit in South Carolina, against a defendant named Eiser. All others (now 206) are in Nevada.

Steve Green covered the message board suits in a Jan. 12 story in the Las Vegas Sun, link here

Righthaven is remaining very insistent in its position that individual infringers (even on message boards) are not entitled to prior notice under the DMCA safe harbor, only service providers are.  In fact, Righthaven had already settled with madjacksports.  The whole question still needs close attention, that I don’t think is anything close to definitive yet.

Note that Green links to an Oct. 20 story on the LVS site about the one trial settled so far, one that went against Righthaven on Fair Use grounds.

It does seem that Righthaven is doing this "because we can."  

There is a site, RFCExpress, that stores the documents for federal district suits, and will retrieve all documents associated with a case, but charges a small fee for each document.  For example, for Wayne Hoehn the direct link is this. Most of the individual cases should show up here from search engines.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

School systems and states are becoming more explicit in regulating teachers' off-duty web postings

The Virginia Board of Education is considering rules on teacher conduct that at first seem motivated by a few egregious cases of abuse by teachers and failure of school systems to screen prospective teachers with background checks (especially former Manassas high school English teacher Kevin Ricks, as investigated and reported widely by The Washington Post recently).

But the rules are interesting in that they would more specifically affect how teachers can use social media and other instrumentalities of their own outside of school.

Teachers would be prohibited from friending students on Facebook or similar sites (Myspace). Probably they would not be allowed to track students on Twitter (or even Blogger), and would probably have to deny Friend requests on Facebook or requests to be followed on Twitter.  The State could be in a position of having to draw up rules dependent on how various services worked.  (Perhaps it could even try to prevent teachers who do have their own personal websites to examine server logs to see if students had visited them.)  However, there’s nothing inherently unconstitutional about regulating how people can use various services or consumer products when public safety is involved.

The news story, by Josh White, appeared in print in the Washington Post Monday Jan. 10 in the Metro Section, with link here

Teachers would not be allowed to socialize or fraternize with students after school, even off school property.  The practical fact that it is dangerous to do so is common sense, and was well demonstrated by the plot of the 2003 film “Student Seduction” from Lionsgate and Lifetime, reviewed on my Movies Blog May 4, 2010.
These sorts of rules are probably becoming common around the country, but this is the first time I have heard such guidelines explicitly discussed for Virginia.

The story stopped short of getting into the “implicit content” or “online reputation” issues that I have considered on this blog before.  But around the country, a few school systems or even teachers’ colleges have shown short fuses, firing teachers or denying diplomas on the basis of relatively innocuous personal Internet postings (such as the “Drunken Pirate” image case in Pennsylvania). And I had my own issue, as described here July 27, 2007.

As noted before, other government agencies are having to look harder at employee personal web use, because of indirect threats to confidentiality, and some are instituting "prepublication review" policies. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My latest take on how a "Do Ask Do Tell" movie should be set up

As I narrow down my plans, I wanted to outline my latest concept of how a rogue “Do Ask Do Tell” movie might be structured.  I’m going to keep it pretty general, but show how the material would be set up.

A movie needs to tell a story, which for me is first “how I did it” (a new form of self-publishing or perhaps self-broadcast) and what I did, which could have made a real difference in not only repealing “don’t ask don’t tell”, but also Lawrence v. Texas and other Internet censorship matters.  I stayed in the game, but in a morally double-edged fashion.

The "story", however, may sometimes be more interesting (and mysterious) if presented in layered fashion.

Imagine that the movie (all in 2.35:1) opens in black and white, with a high school senior reviving a late middle aged substitute teacher, me, with a defib pack. The film continues with the student and his younger brother, perhaps a sophomore, visiting “me” in the hospital. The older student is a computer geek, they younger one is a music composer.  The “me” character declines surgery and I get out of the hospital, as the two brothers then draw me into their world, getting daring with P2P on computers so they can get my music entered into the computer and performed.

The film presents what seems like a backstory in color (with past in sepia and more current in full hue), of my own earlier music lessons and traces why I failed to make music my life’s work. It shows a trip to Philadelphia to meet the cast of Everwood at a shopping mall, a TV series that also poses a young person’s music career gone wrong. But then the younger brother has found my “other” story on the Internet with search engines, and I start explaining (shown in flashbacks) my William and Mary expulsion. Other students (shown in present day color) know of my involvement with repealing don’t ask don’t tell. I explain the nexus of these to the younger brother (in fiction, with more true flashbacks) with typical “libertarianesque” ideology.

In time, we see that the black-and-white is “fiction” and is a story (or screenplay) that I had posted on the Internet (maybe in the spirit of the movie “Adaptation”), and the relationship with the two brothers, in the alternate universe, gets me into deep trouble, after the younger brother gets a fake ID and shows up at a bar and participates in a “barbering ritual”.  The complications (in fiction) lead to my “arrest” and eventual imprisonment, and intrusive “psychiatric” probing. Then, another heart attack, and in fiction “I” die in prison. But the younger brother plays my music, resurrected by technology, in concert, as the younger brother moves from being a composer or content-creator to a performer.

Then we switch back to present day, in color, and dramatize the circumstances under which I let a teacher know about my work on the web. Although this has worked well before, it leads to confrontations, as to why (in a Facebook-like world where one’s identity object is allowed only one “instance”) I had besmirched myself on the web, even in fiction, even to make a point.  It’s a sort of “William and Mary II”.

The film switches into interview mode. There are a couple of possibilities of who the interviewer is: an investor, an employer, or maybe even a prosecutor.  I am not sure.  But I must “defend my life”, while trying to identify the interviewer (again, in “Facebook” mode).  

Here the story of the most recent act of my life, tracing the eldercare situation and the way my own political activities had affected it, and even the emotional challenges, is shown – but there is more talk here.  You could say that it makes the case for “the natural family”, for some conformity as necessary for “sustainability”, and even a new “social contract” (which turns out to be an old one).  And at the end I must identity the interviewer, where a nemesis or opportunity. Is she of this world?  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1980s law gives little protection to Internet users from government snooping; more rulings in copyright cases

The main body of communications privacy law, passed in 1986, gives more protection from government search and seizure (without warrants or probable cause) for paper in a filing cabinet than emails or text by Miguel Helft and Claire Cain Miller, “Web Outruns Privacy Law, Authorities Request Flood of Information,” link here.  Online, the title is “1986 Privacy Law Is Outrun by Web”. In fact, that’s the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. The Cornell Law Reference is here. The Act extends to a Stored Communications Act, which deals with pen/trap provisions.

In the mid 1980s, Internet use was rather esoteric, with main protocols (lik html) not yet well established. But another point not understood is that when someone distributes information electronically, in practice there is much greater chance that many more eyes will see it. And many people have misunderstood the concept of "friends" in the digital world.

But it seems that more attention should be paid to privacy with respect to government snooping (as as reaction to Wikileaks), and less to the "harm" of "tracking" users for advertising purposes. But then we have another issue, "See something, say something."

Electronic Frontier Foundation has some important news on copyright, including an amicus brief (Corynne McSherry) in the First Circuit regarding excessive damage awards in copyright cases (link) and another ruling allowing resale of promo CD’s, rejecting a claim by UMG, and reaffirming consumers’ “first sale” rights. More about that will come.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dead celebrities may control a "right of publicity", another possible legal trap for amateurs; looking at Elvis, Michael

On Sunday, Jan. 9 CBS 60 Minutes, in a report by Steve Kroft, explained how the intellectual property rights of dead celebrities makes for big business, as for heirs. One of the businessmen associated with the issue is Mark Roesler.

For “ordinary speakers” the issue is potentially important because apparently dead celebrities retain their “right of publicity”, upon which amateurs could infringe. That would also merge with risks of trademark infringement.

Some of the celebrities covered in the segment included James Dean, Elvis Presley, and now Michael Jackson. The CBS report included a brief visual tour of Presley’s Graceland  (link)  in Memphis. I remember the “controversy” when Presley was drafted.

Roesler is credited for having pressured many states (through legislatures and sometimes the courts) to recognize a “postmortem right of publicity”, which Roesler explained as “We have the right to prevent our name, our likeness, our image, our signature, our voice, from being used in some commercial fashion.” Kroft noted that “the right of publicity” isn’t mentioned in the Bill of Rights, but it has always been a recognized source of torts in common law, and many states regulate it.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Media and Internet "Asymmetry": when are we our brothers' keepers?

I recall that, on New Year’s Night of 1976, back in NYC, one of my first “partners” said that his greatest concern in the world was “the abuse of the media.” (He also fed me the line that he taught a college course in “The History of Consciousness”, a la Jeffrey Mishlove [book was "The Roots of Consciousness", 1977].)

Now, in the wake of the Arizona tragedy, we have a general discussion going on that the Media, by being available 24x7 and being very addictive (via the Net and social media, which even customizes the News Feeds now) is getting, if not “abusive”, at least “dangerous” in that it can spurn unstable people into horrific actions. (Check the media stories to follow the details of the Sarah Palin PAC "cross hairs" metaphor.)

I suppose there is something to this: we have a world where everyone sees himself (or herself) as personally wired (maybe even tied biologically as in James Cameron’s “Pandora”) to the whole outside Universe, without regard to any preferences or loyalties implicit in family or other social grouping. We have indeed moved away from the social insect model. But it means that many of us may be much less involved with other people in any way that “gets real.”

There’s another side to this, asymmetry. Fareed Zakaria explained it in a recent Time Magazine essay (linked in my posting yesterday on the International issues blog). But individuals can instantiate themselves on the Web. They may be just giving away evidence of their instability (and providing evidence for the police to find after the fact), or they may be adding to the pot of vitriolic speech particularly condemning of those who indulge themselves in modernity (a complaint of some of radical Islam), or of those who have become dependent on others, whether due to moral flaw or laziness or to circumstances beyond their control (and it’s often hard to tell the difference).

There does seem to be a particular danger in modern asymmetry, where anyone can be heard from without supervision. Unstable people may pose real threats. These range from domestic “mentally ill” (Hinckley, Kaczynski), to anti-government Right Wing radical (McVeigh), to radical Islam (underwear, shoes, etc). Unlike the times of forty years ago, during my own coming of age (the Weathermen, the People’s Party of Benjamin Spock, etc.) the extreme Left seems relatively left out of all this right now. We heard this idea stated shortly after 9/11 (in connection with "jihad recruiting" and also fears about steganography), but not so much lately until suddenly after Saturday's tragedy.

Should the media be required to restrain itself (beyond specific areas of confidentiality already well-established in journalistic practice, although maybe challenged in the battle over shield laws) because of what a few unstable individuals might do? That’s not a vacuous question for ordinary Internet users, because blogging platforms and now social media (especially Facebook) is making many of us journalists. It’s particularly worrisome today, because Boehner and other House members have said today that they’re suspending their usual agenda (“conservative” as it was, like “repealing Obamacare”), as if they saw asymmetry as a national security emergency that could lead to draconian legislation shutting a lot of what we do down.

Of course, most of us remember reading a stanza in high school English, “No Man Is an Island” (John Donne, “Meditation XVII” (link )). We are affected by what others do, and can be called upon to sacrifice because of the “weaknesses” of others, which may be reflections of our own flaws in different forms. In today’s world, we’re less conscious of this than we used to be, perhaps (as with previous generations that faced military drafts). It seems as though a lot of the Gospel was about dealing with this, following the Old Testament (typical discussion of the "Brother's Keeper" moral problem here). Despite the opportunity that technology gives so many of us to excel without the approval or supervision of others, we have to remember that we are social creatures, like it or not.

In the past few years, as I had to deal with my own family eldercare situation, I had to ponder the idea that my own outspokenness, even when I was "right", could (however wrongfully) attract danger to others besides myself, even if I had not "chosen" to be "responsible" for them in the usual sense.

Still, I’d rather see Congress get back to its (distracting) “anti-spending” agenda, however partisan .

Here's a 14 minute CNN video, "is political rhetoric too heated?"   On CNN, one reporter said that even the "meta-talk" (in subjunctive mood) about issues might incite some unstable people.

Update: Jan. 12

Sarah Palin has issued a statement saying that journalists and pundits who criticize her rhetoric are bowing to the concept of "blood libel", link here. That concept has little or no relevance in US law.

Friday, January 07, 2011

"Implicit content" issue likely to become an increasing problem for "amateur" bloggers (when functioning as journalists)

On Dec. 5 I wrote a posting rounding up the “existential threats” to blogging as we know it, but it seems that the list grows.

One is the government’s proclivity to pick on a few things and blow them out of proportion, to protect itself. Government has been saying that anyone who links to or even reads Wikileaks threatens the lives of civilians overseas – no, it’s the original leak of operationally critical information that endangers people overseas, not ordinary speakers, even regular journalists. This was settled with “Pentagon Papers”.

Another is the difficulty in pinning down what is really “confidential”. Identification of private stakeholders (and their PII) or of trade secrets obviously is wrong, but someone with access to any sort of confidential and non-public information might be giving out hints as to what future public information will be by expressing opinions. It’s a very gray area. It could lead to much stricter guides for “pre-publication review” for holders of many jobs, of almost anything they post. And remember, many of the concerns will be "prospective" (even a personal journalistic "purpose").

Facebook has tried to say that it is about social cohesion, not publication; but one can parse or inverse the news feeds of Facebook and see they are blogs, that can go viral easily. One can even say that about Twitter; over time, the mass of a person’s posts adds up to something. (Yup, compute “A” + “K”).

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Conflict of interest, federal employment and election judges

There has been an evolution over the years of conflict of interest for federal employees, particularly with the Hatch Act. Right now, the issue seems to boil down to a ban on partisan activities (including lobbying as we usually understand it, Abramoff-style). But an anomaly may be that federal workers, even retired military or others in part-time federal work, would not be allowed to “volunteer” (for very low pay) as election judges, for which there is a dire shortage in many elections (there’s talk of “drafting” them).  That’s because in many states the election  judges are considered partisan (and many states have partisan primaries).  I’ll look into this further (especially for Virginia). In practice, it seems silly (compared to many other problems discussed on this blog) because election judges have no discretionary authority, they’re just “foot soldiers”, working from 5 AM until midnight on election days.  
Picture: No, not Dubai.

Facebook's remaining private: is it just "I do what I want"?

In the past few days, financial papers have been reporting on the arrangements by which Facebook remains a private company but attracts more investors, implying that there is some controversy. Privately-held companies do not have to report as “much”, and the tendency in recent times is for many successful tech companies to want to remain private.

Kathleen Pender has a typical story in the San Francisco Chronicle, (website url) here.

Companies with fewer than 500 shareholders (including institutions) may remain private.

The biggest psychological reason for remaining private may be freedom: “I do what I want.” This has, to say it in a kindly way, been somewhat Facebook’s position, even if it maintains it is benevolent. I experience the same sort of feeling about my own online publishing activity, and even plans for a film. I know the feeling. Once you're publicly traded, you're first priority isn't self-expression, it's profit.

A private investor in Facebook needs a large wad of cash, and is subject to certain other restrictions. According to news reports, some newer employees stock options become valuable only if the company goes public or certain other special events happen.

The shenanigans in the movie "The Social Network" don't happen with public companies (that's not to say that the movie was accurate). It's only a movie, maybe. Maybe the CNBC documentary series starting 9 PM Eastern tonight will be more true-to-life.

I worked for a company in the 1980s that was taken private to keep it from "corporate raiders". The "Capital Partners" put a lot of squeeze on management for profits. Is the tech world different?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Denver Post "joins" Righthaven

The latest scuttlebutt on the “copyright troll” problem is that apparently The Denver Post has joined The Las Vegas Review Journal as a Righthaven “client”, according to a detailed story in the Denver Daily News (is this the reincarnation of the Rocky Mountain News?) by Peter Marcus, link here. Also, the Huffington Post is reporting that Stephen’s Media in fact does not own the Las Vegas Journal Review, so the dragnet of papers joining the trolling fray is obscure but probably growing. The Huffington Link (Jason Salzman) is here.
Again, one of the pillars of “fair use” is “transformative” processing or adding of value. An article that “connects dots” among different sources (or even personal experience) is probably more transformative than even a close paraphrase and link of a single article. My own feeling is that courts would probably disagree with Righthaven's claims with plaintiffs who had added considerable critical or transformative material of their own when posting large portions of original stories. That's how we were taught in college English! You can quote, but attribute and do your own thinking!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year: Some formal project management, and "eliminating redundancy" in 2011: How will I push my "do ask do tell"?

In 2011, I do have my work cut out for me.

There was a major personal event, covered here on Dec. 21, 2010.

December 2010, however, also came to a climax with the repeal (with caveats) of the policy "don't ask don't tell" regarding days in the military, an issue that I have been documenting on line since 1996, with my three books to boot.  I had my own way of working this, which would spread to other issues (like COPA, online reputation, implicit content, and Internet free entry -- and now restory sanity over Wiki:Leaks). I will say that had I not approached it the way I did, and remained steadfast for all these years (which was more challenged than most people know, as I will reveal in coming months) we might well not have the Repeal accomplished (or the COPA victory or even the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling).

I do want to focus on the idea of a “Do Ask Do Tell” independent film. It seems that the concepts like “do ask do tell” (inspired by the notorious “don’t ask don’t tell” policy finally and historically repealed in December 2010) jives with Anderson Cooper’s “keeping ‘em honest” (which sounds like a registerable trademark to me, even though I haven’t checked) . Connected to all this is Facebook’s Paradigm (as in the Time Magazine issue, discussed here Dec. 26, 2010), where personal identity is not very mutable and must maintain public cohesion, where double lives (or maybe second lives) so popular in the early days of the Web are falling away.  We still face major challenges: overzealous implementation of protection of "privacy' and of government "secrets", and of the "establishment" business interests of the past (in the media) could still deep-six free expression in a seas of "dues paying" in the future.

My plan of work will involve some indirect steps, pulling together the loose ends of much of my work, and eliminating redundancy and obsolescence. I have a novel to finish, a second sci-fi screenplay, and then I will get to my “final vision” for the “Do Ask Do Tell Screenplay” (it will be heavily layered, like a wedding cake), a third non-fiction “book” (probably an E-book), in “Five Movements”, which will become the centerpiece of a restructure web presence, with fewer blogs (news analysis and media reviews) rather analogous to high school English “grammar and literature”), and a well focused Facebook and Twitter setup for news links.

I have a “project plan” for all this (invoking the “project management” techniques of my illustrious IT career), and it looks like it will take me to about the first of May, 2011, to get there.

I should have more details in about a week. I’d better not go delinquent, or someone else will take away my own “mark”.