Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cell phone safety issue: Maybe it doesn't pay for us all to become "health nuts"

Yesterday, CNN aired a disturbing report on cell phone use, which once again raises questions about “sustainability” of our individual-centered way of life.

The report raised the possibility that minors (children and probably teens) and possibly young adults who use cell phones a lot might indeed have increased brain tumors several decades later.  But that’s mainly only in conversation (holding close to the head), not in use as an Internet terminal or for reading beaucoup text messages.

Cell phones are important in that they help make the individual “efficient” without depending on others as much. There are some religious groups (the Amish, for example) who point out that too much individual efficiency is not such a good thing, can become a mirage.

But what can become a “public health problem” depends a lot on factors that are always changing.  In colonial times, the economy in much of the South depended on tobacco, and nobody thought about a “health problem” (or as a drug dependency), because people didn’t live long enough anyway. Even in the 1950s, when I negotiated most of my teen and high school years, nobody thought of it as much of a problem. My father stopped smoking abruptly in early 1962 after a small heart attack at age 59 no doubt related to my William and Mary expulsion.  I remember giving my father a Christmas-decorated carton of cigarettes around 1950, or so, with the full blessing of my mother.

In Army Basic in 1968, they taught recruits how to field strip a cigarette; nobody saw a connection between smoking and the PCPT. Even in the 1970s, it seemed as though “everybody” (but me) smoked at bars; those Saturday night buffets at the Ninth Street Center in NYC in the mid 1970s were always smoke filled. In the mid 2000’s, bars and restaurants cringed as states and cities (including Washington) passed laws banning all indoor smoking. But now, most young adults in their early 20s at packed discos (straight or gay) like the no smoking environment, because they were brought up on it.  (Cell phone calls -- and text messages -- break up a lot of intimacies on the dance floor.)

By the time I was a working young adult, the times were "a-changing" quickly, and existential problems could come out of the woodwork quickly, because of both technology and changing social mores and structures. In the 1980s, we got another rude shock as to how increased social freedom and low-cost travel mobility could lead to a diabolical public health problem: HIV.  But pharmaceutical technology (and education) made that problem much more manageable, even if there is no vaccine or cure.  Today, we are concerned just about the travel mobility itself for contagious, non-STD’s, like H1N1 or H5N1 (the H5 is much more dangerous, and could explode suddenly at any time).

And all the harping about diet – true, it’s gone on for decades, as with those “fabulous formula diets” in 50s women’s magazines – and about frequent cancer checks – they’re motivated by the fact that people can live much longer now if they try to.   In his “Physics of the Future”, Michio Kaku paints a future where toilets or other household appliances will warn you about problems, like sugar in urine.  I’m not sure I want my body watched by my computer or household gadgetry all the time.

So, what about radiation from modern devices. Maybe they could have said this about air travel, or television; if so, it didn’t stand up.  We really will faces questions like this when we try real physical space travel for average peopl. Weightlessness will definitely have long term effects.

As for cell phone use (in conversation), maybe there’s something to it. We could face another “demographic storm” in a few decades from it. It’s just too hard to see. I wonder about it now, as a current "interim" job that I have sometimes requires 30-minute cell phone calls. 

As for "changng" technology -- back in 1961, a college roommate chose his clock radio as the subject of his first English theme!

(See also my Issues blog May 30.)

First picture: Verizon says I own the same Blackberry as "Mr. President". 

Monday, May 30, 2011

New School professor notes pressure on high school students, leading to lost opportunities in arts and sports; Wikipedia is making the big leagues in academia

I won’t keep giving URL links to the Washington Post on this entry today, since I don’t like my bibliographic downpours to train over the same areas. But a couple of different topics this “real Memorial Day” caught my eye quickly.

On page A23, New School English professor Candy Schulman talks about the pressure on kids in “better” (both private and public) high school, in a piece titled “High-stakes high school burnout”. What struck me as alarming was her mention that her daughter had dropped piano lessons after eight years, first to play varsity sports, and now the study time was so extreme that soccer too was at risk. I took nine years of piano (from third to twelfth grades) and essentially lost my way as to being able to make music a “life’s work”. My first piano teacher had wanted me to do that, yet had insisted that I become a “normal boy” (this was back in the 1950s).

Composer and pianist Timo Andres, now just turned 26 (I think a year younger than Mark Z), addresses the problem, of the pressure on kids who want to focus on music or other arts, briefly but effectively in his own liner notes to his 2010 Nonesuch album two-piano work “Shy and Mighty” (522413-2). You have to buy the CD or mp3/pdf file legally to get his specific commentary on this and related issues, but it’s worth it for parents and teens pondering a commitment to a career in the arts. (See my “drama” blog, May 20, 2010.)

My own experience is that sometimes "those in power" wanted the "talented" to "pay their dues" in the conventional sense before moving on with their own gifts. 

There is an introduction to Ms. Schulman by Lisa Romeo, link

On the front page, there is a story by Jenna Johnson, “Wikipedia gets a bit of credit in colleges.”  Wikipedia has tightened its standards in recent years, often removing inadequately researched material, so professors have in some cases turned to writing for Wikipedia as a class assignment.  This is a turnaround from a few years ago when Jimmy Wales’s innovation had been regarded as a “cheat sheet” and an unreliable and skimpy one at that.  Writing for Wikipedia, since it normally is essentially anonymous publicly, does not give one the potential recognition (or perhaps online reputation risk) of a blog or even Facebook profile or Twitter feed.

I need to “make Wikipedia” and satisfy their “notability” standards, without notoriety.

Pictures: Yup, my parents got married, in May 1940, in Washington DC; on a subsequent trip to Williamsburg, my parents tried the pillory.  

Here's a trailer for "Race to Nowhere" from Reel Link Films, mentioned in Schulman's article:

Update: May 31:

CNN has been reporting the story of the success of the online Khan Academy, link here, after Bill Gates noticed it and supported it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Washington post ombudsman: more on plagiarism and what it means (for freelancers)

Checkout  Washington Post ombudsman Patricia Pexton’s article “Burned by a freelancer” (print, Sunday, May 29, a A17), or “A freelancer is accused of ripping off a documentary for a Post travel article”, link here

When a newspaper pays for a freelance article, it usually pays for factual, original reporting of events observed firsthand, not for opinions or analysis of materials the facts of which have been previously published anywhere. (Newspapers do publish “freelance” opinions from amateurs as forum commentaries, but usually don’t pay for them.)

In this context, then, what the freelancer did in his travel report was a form of plagiarism (as newspapers define it), even though it is not copyright infringement in the sense usually discussed here (as with Righthaven).

Yes, newspapers are between a rock and hard place on using freelance articles.  I have not approached any newspaper recently for a job like this; it is easier to stay focused right now if I remain "independent" for now. This is an important issue for newspapers, however.

I do find that the most effective blog postings are often those where the blogger (me) physically went to the event if possible, or at least watched an entire video record, as with a congressional hearing. 

(See my movies blog, May 20, 2007, for discussion of “Absolut Warhola”, mentioned in the ombudsman's piece.) 
To illustrate the point: first picture is from my parents' estate's home movies, which I own the media rights to use. No copyright issue, but the picture does not represent first hand reporting by me (it is Shenandoah in 1940). The second is a picture I took in West Virginia in 2010; it represents first hand reporting. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A couple of sites aggregate links to "long articles"; bringing substance back to Web 2.0

Here are a couple of sites that are a bit like what I try to do: provide an index into news stories and commentary that convey the substance of what is going on.

Mark Armstrong runs “Longreads” (site), which provides a search engine and nifty presentation of important articles on almost any topic, some of which will trigger a printer response when navigated.  The actual article is always on the original site; it is not copied.

Then Aaraon Lammer and Max Linsky edit “Longform”, (site) which also, with a slightly more intricate format that allows the submission of suggested articles (I guess they can be one’s own) about a variety of areas.

The sites attempt to provide “printer-friendly” versions of the articles for loading onto iPads, Kindle, eReaders, or other future mobile devices; one could bring one’s reading material from the sites for a long flight.

 I’m not sure how much analysis – time-tracking or direct comparison of opposing viewpoints – is to be offered.

On Saturday, May 28, Paul Farhi had a summary story, “Up from the pithiness of the Web; while others tweet, some think the next big thing will be long, thoughtful prose”,  link here. The online title is “Going long in a shorter-is-better web culture”.  That’s probably good for me. At least it's a refocus on publication and distribution, rather than on socializing. Both these sties (above) like to use the color red for their trademarks, compared to Facebook's blue. 
First picture: the portal for "The Event" opens; second: that's me on the right; the appearance of the "feeling reckless" guy on the left can mean some  bad guy a few thousand miles away is going to get it. Watch your horror movies!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Facebook denounces Ceglia's "frivolous" lawsuit, maybe setting an example for how to respond to legal bottom feeding

Facebook, and specifically Mark Zuckerberg, may have the opportunity to show us all how to handle frivolous litigation, and the company and “president of the world” seem to be showing us just how to do it.  (There are others who can set examples, like Bill Clinton (the other “Prime Minister of the Planet”), I suspect.)

According to multiple sources, Facebook has slammed, in a court filing, Paul Ceglia’s claim to own half (or more) of Facebook. The Huffington Post has a typical story, here

At age 18, as a college freshman (just before he would probably get ear of the controversy at Harvard about military recruiters – a topic that affected me more than him, obviously), in 2003, Mark Zuckerberg accepted a programming job through Craigslist (them, again!) with Ceglia, whose content and perhaps nomenclature (organic chemistry, have you) suggest a precedence to what is now Facebook.

But then, we’ve been through this with the Winklevoss twins (pardon me, the Winklevi – although that may be Jesse Eisenberg’s name for them).  There are Two of Them, each 6 feet 5, and they now are headed for the Supreme Court. The brothers say it is about being right, about setting good examples as fathers for the kids they will have.  It seems that the twins have other interests they could turn their legal experience on, such as P2P and net neutrality (although "i2hub" created a saga of its own).

One interesting observation is that Zuckerberg was able to get jobs so easily in a time of a supposedly down economy, with the supposedly horrible job market for ordinary older people. Does this speak to the advantage of being a “prodigy”, or being a “kid” who just knows what other “kids” want and will pay for.
All of this litigation does address questions about copyright and perhaps trademark – about when something you deploy is a new “idea” and when it is “stolen” proprietary content or trade secrets from another employer.  There are definitely some gray areas here, more subtle than the “fair use” (and “champerty”) debates going on now with the Righthaven mess.

CNN’s account of this neo-gospel, by Stacy Cowley, showed up on BlackBerry last night (probably including president Obama’s) and is here

Perhaps I could claim that Facebook would never have ballooned into planetary domination without my own "do ask do tell" dating back to 1997. But that was just a knowledge management concept, not a patentable technology.  The moral lesson, every person's individual contribution has the potential to matter in ways that are unpredictable.  ("It's a Wonderful Life.") And maybe that is all that matters to me. 

So, I need to get my movie made.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"May 26, 1961": 50th Anniversary of an important high school field trip for me (hint: Mt. Washington, NH)

This is the Golden Anniversary of May 26, 1961, which was a Friday, and a very important date for my “first coming.” On Memorial Day Weekend, 1961, about ten of us in the Science Honor Society at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA took a field trip to Mount Washington, New Hampshire.

We left in two cars, one driven by the Henle family, and the other by the physics teacher, Herman Oberle, and headed for the New Jersey Turnpike on a dreary day. We played “Ghost” in the car. (I don’t remember how to play it now.)  We stayed in a motel on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston .  I remember hearing on a car radio that the “new” Washington Senators had beaten the “old” Senators (the transplanted Minnesota Twins) 4-3 that night, at old Griffith Stadium, in the last year of its life.

Saturday, we drove up to Center Sandwich, NH and stayed in a large country home owned then by the Henle family (which was, thankfully for me, into classical music, but mostly baroque, no Mahler then – the “mom” loved the Brandenberg Concertos).     Saturday evening, we climbed the miniscule Rattlesnake Peak near a lake near the home. There was an intention to climb the mountain Sunday through Tuckerman (4700 foot elevation change from Pinkham Notch, about 6 hours), but Mr. Oberle nixed it because of weather reports. So we drove up (in the parent's and physics teacher's personal cars). But we got to experience the 100mph winds at the summit and see the observatory.  And yes, there was plenty of rime ice and snow left on the summit, even that late.  Sunday afternoon, I stayed back with a sore throat, as the others climbed Mount Chicorua, about 3600 feet as I remember.   (I would make up for it in late January 1965, climbing Mt. Greylock in MA with snowshoes with many of the same people on another bus trip.)

Monday, May 29, we drove back and watched a Memorial Day parade in Tilton, NH, and returned home Tuesday.  I recall being impressed with the level of industry (oil terminals and railroads) visible then along the NJ Turnpike in the northern part, and we detoured through rural Delaware; the Bay Bridge was not yet built, as I recall.

I had a “roommate” on the two nights (Friday and Monday) in the Boston motel, and the topic was the world of dating girls, and what a revelation that was soon to be. It wasn’t.

Another good friend, a good student but not in the SHS, took his peers on a church retreat in the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia, and said it had actually snowed there Memorial Day weekend.

I did not go to the senior prom, and had no interest in such an “Event” that today is a (heterosexual) highlight in most seniors’ lives (enough to become the subject of discipline in some school systems).  In those days, the “popular music” there was dull by today’s standards (no Lady Gaga yet), although “The Twist” was soon to appear.

Here’s the website for Alumni of Washington-Lee high school (link)

Wikipedia attribution link for Mt. Washington Cog Railway picture   (used on Labor Day, 1976).

Below, a couple more pictures of New Hampshire from the 1940s from my parents' home movies (estate property, now mine for copyright purposes):

and "The Old Man in the Mountain"

and cabins that resembled the Henle property in the Sandwich area (but not the same):

Update: July 13, 2011

Monday July 11 (one day after my 68th birthday) I made it to the Mt. Washington Summit, with the help of the $25 coach ride up the Auto Road from Route 16 (100 miles even from Concord, 2-1/2 hour drive). It was in the low 60s, muggy, foggy and windy on top, but not cold; it was comfortable. It was about 90 F in the valley at 10 AM, a very hot day.  But I have many other pictures and will process some video soon.
More fog:
Visibility in this shot was about 30 feet.
The cograil train, $45 each way (compare to Wikipedia picture above).

Some real scenery:

Or this:
Here is the weather station. We got to see it in 1961 with the physics teacher having arranged to the tour; today we couldn't get in without a prearranged tour
;Here is some scenery near Center Sandwich NH, where the Henle House was:
And here is Bearcamp Pond (I think Rattlesnake Mountain, which we climbed Sat. night, is behind it)
As I noted, some of the "kids" climbed Chicorua Sun PM.  I missed better shots from Highway 16.

Monday morning, Memorial Day, I recall that we enjoyed the March in downtown Tilton, NH, near Laconia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cato book forum considers population replacement issue, with a libertarian twist: self-interest

Today, I made it to a Cato Book Forum at the “Fortress of Solitude” on Massachusetts Ave., a headquarters building undergoing impressive renovations and additions.

The book is “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids” by Bryan Kaplan (from Basic Books). I’ll review the book soon on my Books Blog, but I’ll talk about “The Event” at Cato today.

Policy Analyst Adam B. Schaeffer moderated the discussion by Bryan Caplan, and author Charles Murray, known for “The Bell Curve” and then “Why I Am a Libertarian” back in the 1990s, books that influenced me when I was writing my own “Do Ask Do Tell”.

We’re hearing a lot from the “right” today about the disinclination of wealthier societies to maintain replacement populations, which raise sustainability and generativity issues, even as moral questions. Writers like Philip Longman (“The Empty Cradle”), Alan Carlson and Paul Mero (“The Natural Family”) have discussed this with moralistic overtones. (The other side was provided by Elinor Burkett's "The Baby Boon".)   Others in the religious right speak of “demographic winter”, whereas the Left often counters that this turns into an argument about having “the right babies” (especially “more white babies”).

 Caplan spoke very fast, and opened with the idea that people are indeed a resource and not just a cost; if we have “more people”, we have more new ideas and more innovation. He even mentioned being a dad to twins early in his speech, and certainly will provide his own kids with an academically and intellectually stimulating home to grow up in. But his argument is simple: how kids turn out is more a matter of genetics and biology than we think, and parental attention means less than we think. Therefore rearing kids costs more than we think, so parents who want kids can reasonably consider having more.  That may indeed be constructively selfish (even in an Ayn Rand sense):  not only are there more progeny, but there is a greater chance of having offspring who themselves will make great original contributions to the culture; there is some “safety in numbers” against unforeseeable tragedy.

I’ve noticed, previously as a substitute teacher, that different students in a family, particularly brothers, tend to perform in a similar fashion. When an older brother is an academic and athletic or activities star, so is the younger, in similar fashion.  I know of one family of four young men as biological brothers: one is a pianist, another is a violinist, another is a web designer, and the other is a teacher, all very strong in intellectual pursuits.

Murray played devil’s advocate, speaking to the effect that the presence of marriage and stability does affect kids.

Caplan noted that disadvantaged adopted children may seem smarter or more like adopted parents early in life, but then tend to revert to their genetic expectations.  Intellect and character (but not controversial “values”) tend to be inherited, he says. He didn’t talk about sexual orientation (as in Chandler Burr’s work), but it seems like the wild card, with homosexual orientation sometimes occurring once  (like an independent variable or vector basis component) among siblings who may be very much alike in all other aspects.  

I did raise the “demographic winter” crowd’s question from the floor, and Caplan’s general reaction was that the individual moral assessment has not (compared to my assertion) changed: having children is still an independent personal choice that confers absolute personal responsibility (for the consequences of voluntary sexual intercourse), but the presence or absence of the choice doesn’t by itself confer moral status. However, as I noted from the audience,  responsibility for others, particularly filial responsibility, is often imposed anyway, regardless of choices.  Eldercare is a much bigger issue today than it was fifteen years ago because medicine (government supported in Medicare) keeps the elderly alive longer with disability. And sometimes people wind up being expected to be prepared to raise their sibling’s children (again, not the result of their own “chosen acts”), or to step up to all kinds of other interpersonal challenges.  That’s part of “living in a community”.

At the wine and cheese party afterward, there was some mention of Jennifer Roback Morse, who wrote “Why the laissez-faire family doesn’t work”; but it was said she came from libertarian origins. Bryan signed my book “instance”: “To John: The world needs more people like you.”  Because the world needs more people

Monday, May 23, 2011

More on Righthaven in Colorado; it gets complicated

As in Las Vegas, another federal judge has raised questions about Righthaven’s standing to sue in Colorado, how, as in this “Vegasinc” story , dated May 19, by Steve Green, link here. It now appears (to me, at least) that “Las Vegas Inc” and the “Las Vegas Sun” are the same company.

Judge Kane wrote a bizarre statement, reported in the article, questioning his own “subject matter jurisdiction” but the effect is to air the question about whether Righthaven’s “business model” comports with US copyright law.  But it seems as though Righthaven's standing to sue is now under serious challenge in both Nevada and Colorado, with different judges. 

In another story, the Righthaven Victims blog, on May 23, noted that the Denver Post lacks major competition in the Denver market, and that Denver residents have not been well informed about the controversy over the proper way to protect the legitimate copyright ownership interests in newspaper stories, individual story link here.  (The story title reminds me of Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark".) Remember that the Rocky Mountain News (a newspaper I personally remember well from my days in Kansas in the 1960s), the previous major competitor, had shut down in 2009 (NPAA story). 

Here’s a “blawg search” on the combination of “Righthaven” and “champerty”, link

See also posts of May 1 and April 7, closely related. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

High school "kids": Tips for getting ready for final exams (if you read "Julius Caesar" this year)

I’ve talked about my manuscript for “Do Ask Do Tell III”.  There are some elements: what other expected from me, and how they saw moral values as constructed. Then there is the question about what we can learn from all this, and where our moral values are headed today. It’s something about balancing independence (“personal responsibility”) with inter-dependence (sustainability and generativity).

The new e-book won’t repeat the old material, but will give a different organization and keyed overview of it.  I can imagine how an English professor could make up a final exam essay question on it.

I remember something about our final exam in 10th Grade English. We had a young man as a teacher (Mr. Davis) and his job was to teach us how to learn, how to review the entire year and figure out what we should have learned from the course all year learn. When I went to high school, we started finals in 10th grade, and they were three hours.  We were being taught how to take finals, something we would have to do for years in our academic careers.

So, kids, if you read Shakespeare's “Julius Ceasar” in sophomore English this year, expect a question like this. What were the values of Brutus and Antony at the beginning of the play.  How did they change during the course of the play because of the tragic events in the play? What is “learned” from the moral paradox of what Brutus went through before his end?  It seems like a fundamental question about our democratic values in western society today.  (I seem to remember a classmate who told me after the exam that he put both characters on the psychiatrist’s couch, as this was understood in 1959. Mr. Davis had said “you will enjoy this exam.”  I don't think an essay question about the Cobbler is needed on a final.  (Best film of the play, 1953, from MGM). 

So, high school kids, expect a question like that on your final. Or, English teachers, ask it.  Yes, bloggers will give you ideas as to what to ask on your final exams.

You can ask something like that about “Silas Marner”, how Silas changes because of Eppie (and we could even get into a moral debate about its significance for “demographic winter”).  Maybe it’s just something about compassion.

I still remember my days as a sub.

Piers Morgan: "We call only one person Man in England. The Queen." 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Now watch the dangerous "PROTECT IP" bill, a "son of COICA"

Here we go again, with a “Son of COICA” act, S. 968, introduced by Patrick Leahy (D. VT). It is called euphemistically the “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Activity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act”, or the “PROTCT IP Act”, for short.  Techdirt has a pointed summary based on EFF, here.  (It reminds me of the "relationship" between COPA and CDA!)

The Act would give private copyright owners powers similar to those of government in COICA, with some specifically disturbing ones, such as requiring search engines to remove links to the offending site from its results. Although there is supposed to be some judicial oversight, the process seems to be “shoot first, ask questions later” (like the rather infamous raid in Pakistan recently).  The whole bill would seem to encourage copyright trolling, like that of Righthaven, and increase the standing of this kind of “business model” to litigate or encourage champerty.

Ars Technica has a similar summary by Nate Anderson in its “Law & Disorder” series, here, May 11. 

Ars Technica also reports that the Department of Homeland Security asked Firefox to remove an ad-on that could bypass domain name seizures. One wonders if router manipulation techniques that bypass ISP’s to identify domains more quickly could be forbidden.  (Remember that Ars Technica was "indirectly" targeted by Righthaven, as reported in late March.)

Righthaven victim Brian D. Hill has a blog posting about the bill on his Uswgo website, here, May 15. 

The govtrack reference is here. It shows introduction of the bill May 12 and its referral to subcommittees.

The Alex Jones Channel has a Youtube video form Feb. 2011, that is scary, predicting the day people will need licenses to have websites and discussing cyber crackdowns in other countries now    His site is “info wars” (link) talks about requiring ISP’s to filter for “blacklists” for objectionable material (porn, hate, gambling, or “illegal activity”, and Wikileaks).  He also talks about proposals to require a “Net ID” to get online, and about the “safe Internet”, or “Internet II”, where all user domains are subdomains of major carriers while the Old Internet is shut down.

I’ve noticed a particular trend in my own life since about 2005. People (possible employers), finding me on the Web, try to drag me into their worlds and encourage me to learn to “compete like a man” again to manipulate and sell to other people (to hucksterize), as if to divert and warn me the “free entry” Internet model might not be around much longer.  Or is this my paranoia? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fibbies had prospectively seized sites thought to embed Super Bowl, other sporting events

Back in Feb. 2011, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York seized the web addresses of a number of domains believed prospectively to be preparing to carry (illegally) live streaming of the NFL Super Bowl. (That sounds even more ironic given the legal dispute now over the NFL lockout, which could shut down the 2011 season, leaving us with Ashton Kutcher’s (“APlusK”) fantasy football league.)

But apparently the sites would not have hosted any copyrighted content. They would gave provided what amount to embeds, legally like links.  If the government could seize these sites, it could seize sites unknowingly embedding infringing YouTube of other hosted (Vimeo, etc) videos.  I’ve long been concerned that the embed issue is not getting proper attention by sites reporting copyright trolling and litigation.

Here is the February story from Huliq, link.The second paragraph of the story talks about the linking issue. 

The NBA and National Hockey League content may have been involved.

Professional sports sites are notoriously strict about protecting copyrights and trademarks, since they usually charge subscriptions for significant video content (although this year MLB has offered more replay videos for free than it had before).

Here’s an example of the federal seizure, still in effect in May, link. The government talks about the seizure of a "domain name". 

Picture: unrelated to story (almost, that is): neighbor before parents' fireplace in 1950, from home movies. I own these 8-mm films as part of the estate, and yes, I plan to use these movies. Lots of historical footage of Arlington and DC in the 1940s.  And they will pass Copyright School.

Armstrong Williams column explores paradoxes of "lower class culture" and even hyper-individualism

Monday, The Washington Times ran a telling op-ed in the “Righteous Indignation” column by African-American conservative Armstrong Williams, “Gresham’s Law”, on p A6, link here.   Yes, here we go again with “absolute personal responsibility” (more than just South Park’s), but this time with a twist. 

Williams characterizes an “absolute lower class culture” based on the concept of common victimization. If one can blame others, then there is no incentive to postpone gratification and aim for individual accomplishment and excellence in any pursuit that adds economic or artistic wealth to the community. Oddly, he does recognize the “accomplishments” of this “culture” in pro sports and pop music.

Of course, it’s obvious that we don’t all start at the same place in line, even adjusted for “track geometry” (and that could stimulate some good high school math test problems).  That can indeed provoke the “indignation” that tends to regard the supposed individual achievements of others as undeserved.

I was caught in this situation early in my life, in a kind of perfect storm. My parents were in an advantaged situation, comparatively, for the 50s; but I could not perform well according to physical and gender norms.  In my day, that took on a moral aspect that took from the fantasies of both the far Left and far Right, both of which can become obsessed with assessing what individual people “deserve”.  Remember Mao’s cultural revolution?

The answer in earlier times seemed to be to focus on sexual morality. Remember the adage “sex is only for married people?” from WB’s “Seventh Heaven”?  Of course, this quickly moved to anti-gay attitudes.

The idea was that if everyone had to tow the line in this area, somehow society was fairer.  Inequality among people existed, but a lot of it had to do with ability, and it was the responsibility of families, not society, to care for people relative to both capability and “station in life.”   My own parents believed in this arrangement. Of course, this arrangement tended to encourage familial and then political “power structures” that quickly became corrupt.  My father used to say, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Authoritarian social structures can remain stable and "sustainable" for a long time, but sometimes they haven't. 

When I grew up, I understood that individual achievement (and delayed gratification) was an important value and found hope in it for myself (my piano playing and music, for example; practicing long hours means delayed rewards).  But I also saw that, at the time, a big issue is how much of life is about the individual on his own, and how much of it is about fitting into the community, and sometimes sharing sacrifices for it?  I grew up during the time of the male-only military draft.

As my own tribulations occurred (already discussed here), my interest into retreating into “fantasy” became a “therapeutic” issue, especially in my 1962 stint at NIH.  My "fantasies" had a lot to do with what attributes people "needed" before I would be "willing" to experience emotion for them. Now, fantasy itself is harmless and may be a good thing (stimulating artistic expression), but others worry about what fantasy says wbout what makes someone tick, about his existential purposes.  Others can see a threat in one’s fantasies: if one is allowed to indulge them too much, that can set an example undermining the familial commitments of others, and maybe even lead to dangerous social or political trends (the lessons of history). Those beliefs, of others in my culture then, became an issue for me.

So what went wrong for me, earlier in life and again recently, is about problems a lot more subtle than just hard work and delayed pleasure.  It was about connecting to a community and sharing its goals and risks.  When one refuses to learn interdependence (as well as independence) too long and then something goes wrong, beyond one’s control, it really can be over.  We all have our skins in other people's "games", like it or not. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Should bloggers refrain from naming acquitted or not-yet-convicted defendants? What about "online reputation"?

Should “amateur” bloggers be expected to refrain from naming unconvicted or acquitted  criminal defendants?  The issue came to mind today as I wrote a story about a teacher acquitted after charges from an apparently disgruntled student on my “Bil on Major Issues” blog.   If the person’s name is used in a blog posting, it is likely to appear again in public search engine results, sometimes near the top of the results (or come up in “Next Blog”).

Online reputation damage still continues before conviction, or especially after acquittal, as this story shows.  The media is quick to report arrests of public officials and especially teachers or others in public trust.   Is it somehow acceptable for the “establishment” press to do this but for amateurs (who may have a less obvious legitimate “purpose”) to do so?  Sometimes these arrests turn out to be unjust.

I’m struck by something else, too: despite the right to a jury trial and the “innocent until proven guilty” presumption in our system in the United States, in practice, innocent criminal defendants bear much of the personal burden of the charges; they often have to pay for their own defense.  That also applies to civil cases (like defense from “shakedown lawsuits” by copyright trolls like Righthaven).  Is that a critique of our weakening sense of social cohesion?  Is that something “family” is supposed to take care of?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A small anomaly from the recovery from this week's Blogger issues

I’ve noticed a small anomaly from the incident this past week where Blogger was in read-only mode for about 20 hours May 12 and May 13, and where Blogger removed most postings made during that period and then re-loaded them.

They appeared to have the correct dates, but I discovered the labels not restored, and I noticed that in the edit panel a combo label consisting of a concatenation of all the label strings that had been there.

I re-added the labels, and found that Blogger moved the post to the date and time of my doing so. If you look at the post right before this, you’ll see a note that I had actually posted it on Wednesday May 11. It got reloaded in the right place, but moved to today (as if deleted and re-added) when I put the right labels back in.

No big deal.  I've since noticed that one can use the "Post Options" to back date the posts and cause them to appear in the right posting sequence again. I've tried this on several blogs and everything displays in the right sequence.  

The Support Forum for this problem is here, and I made a posting to it. Bloggers may find solutions to other "post recovery" issues there. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Electronic Frontier Foundation holds Happy Hour Speakeasy in Washington DC

The Electronic Frontier Foundation held (or perhaps beheld) a “members only” Speakeasy at the Mad Hatter Grille, just below Dupont Circle in Washington DC early Thursday evening, during happy hour.
Let me add right off that the sports bar had great burgers.

The area was small and crowded, up front.  I got into conversations about Righthaven, but also about the issue of wardriving and the recent cases of people getting “busted” when others used their routers without their knowledge (either by police or by copyright trolls).  There’s a recent court opinion where a judge said “an I.P. address is not a person.”  The conventional wisdom is that home router users should use strong passwords and the best encryption, but then the “plausible deniability” of the home user is undermined should there occur a targeted hack.  ISP’s should take some responsibility to define legally best practices and train home and small business users in these. But that involves business or downstream liability risks for the ISP’s, so one way or another, Obama’s DOJ needs to get a handle on the problem, as well as the FCC, hold discussions with industry, and publish guidelines.

I also heard that the Mac is still “safer” than Windows for now, but not for too much longer. The safest machine may be a Linux, but I still don’t see a lot about applications available for it.  But I thought the $100 laptop for overseas use in poor countries was supposed to be Linux.

On the copyright troll problem, there was discussion that copyright law does provide some penalties for frivolous lawsuits, but the provisions take far too long for courts to enforce. 

I took a circuitous route to get there, mistakenly thinking that McPherson Square was closer than Farragut, but at least I saw a “Dairy Farmer’s Market” near the White House.

As for paying for things – yes, I do occasionally buy a Blu-Ray movie DVD – if it is a movie that I need to study for my own screenwriting of “Do Ask Do Tell”.  So far, the list of films to study in detail includes “Inception”, “The Social Network” (especially the opening scene in the bar), and “Black Swan”.  It’s not practical to “collect” movies the way I collected classical records and CD’s over the records. It’s more about writing my own movie, or my own music. Create thy own content, and pass Copyright School.  

Note: It appears that all of my posts from May 11 and 12 on all blogs have been restored, after the Blogger outage.   Everything seems back to "normal". I'll talk soon on the IT blog about my own experience with recoveries in a mainframe environment.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A perfectly legal upload in Copyright School (a 12-year-old musical composition); more thoughts for the next Manifesto; note on AP

Okay, first, let’s have some fun. I played a few measures from memory of the Minuet from my A Major Sonatina composed in 1955 at age 12. It’s perfunctory, and I didn’t play it that well on my new Casio. But it’s “MINE”.  So I can upload it. It’s original music. Too bad if you think you’ve heard it before (for me).
I even had to put Time Magazine covers out of sight, to avoid accidental infringement.

And, yes, if you’re a composer or an author, you want what you publish to be “yours” (without being too self-centered, as I must get to that).  Sure, it’s illegal (I guess) for me to record William and Catherine’s wedding from the web and repost it, but why would I want to do that anyway?  (To set things “straight” (pun intended), I did order a DVD of the wedding from Amazon, so I can listen to all the wonderful music, including Parry’s “I’ll Be Glad”, perfectly legally, with no surprise phone calls or process service.)

This still leaves me wondering if a tune banged out on a pianoforte by a non-human (like Nora, the Piano Playing Cat) can be copyrighted.  I guess.  A bird’s song is certainly public domain, but what about a bird (parrot, even mockingbird) that makes varied calls?

But all the emphasis on originality and truthfulness of one’s own work begs the opposite question. No matter how proud one feels of one’s own work (or even internal judgments), he or she cannot succeed if customers don’t succeed and other peers or stakeholders (family or not) don’t make it.  That may be part of the libertarian answer to the Rick Warren call “It isn’t about you.”  Or, it isn’t “just” about you.

It reminds me of the debate on “equality”, which “before the law” is a bedrock of democracy.  There is a bit of a paradox, that reminds me of relativity in physics. If everyone is conscious of themselves only from the perch of individual “equality”, then a progressive society cannot sustain itself.  To some extent, we do stand or fall together (so it is in the Gospels).  In an purely economic sense, we’re dependent on whether others we pay can actually do their jobs without being exploited.  So if someone else cannot succeed because of something we don’t approve of and still don’t want to be involved in, it still can be our problem – which can cut both ways.

This also reminds me of my irritation about being asked to join other people’s one-sided causes and recruit or petition for them, without looking at all the facts in an “intellectually honest” manner. But there’s something about playing overlord and publishing commentary (even in musical or operatic form) of the tribulations of others, without taking on the same risks or accepting the same level of group goals.  Kibbitzing can affect the outcome of chess games, and gawkers can affect how well “players” on the dance stage really do.  It’s all relativity: the observer affects the observed.  

One other thing: I've noticed that some newspapers are reproducing only the first sentence or two of AP stories, such as a recent story about the Presbyterian Church allowing unmarried clergy to be non-abstinent. This may be related to AP's "crackdown".  I'll watch this further. (Picture below; Arlington Trinity Presbyterian; above, Embassy Row in DC; top: a player piano at Roadside America in PA.)  
Note: This posting was originally made Wednesday May 11.  The date changed when I readded the labels. I've since been able to backdate it. 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Righthaven tries to use novel logic to avoid attorneys fees in cases that it is staring to lose, "dismissal with prejudice", and then a gag order

We’re seeing a new wrinkle in the Righthaven cases.  The plaintiff dismissed the case against Brian Hill “with prejudice”, which seems to require Hill to remove any posts about Righthaven and never write about them again (a demand that would be fatal to the whole concept of blogger journalism; I can imagine the effect on me if I had to do that).  The “Righthaven Victims” blog has the latest story (website url) here.  (The story links to the PDF of Righthaven's response.)

All of this happened as a response for a demand that Brian Hill be reimbursed for his legal fees.  This is likely to occur again in other cases where Righthaven starts to “lose”, particularly if its cases (as in Nevada) all fail because of lack of “standing” or champerty – but then it would seem that there could be more litigation following up on the frivolous nature of the litigation. Sometimes copyright law does punish frivolous claims, but it’s a tricky topic, as an incident in New York State, reported in the “Likelihood of Confusion” blog reported (website url) here
In Texas, GOP governor Rick Perry has been advancing a proposal to make losers pay for most frivolous lawsuits in our tort system, story (website) here

Righthaven's idea of trying to get a "gag order" in cases it is about to lose suggests that this whole episode of copyright trolling is more than just a "business model" to enforce copyright law; it wants to become a way to gag low-cost competition!  You'd have to be careful about this possibility in promoting tort reform (which Gov. Perry commendably wants to do).

May 23, 2011:  Update: Read on Scribd: Reply by Brian D. Hill to Righthaven's "gag order" demands. It makes for interesting reading.  Link.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Oh, no! Not another Manifesto! (or another "screed"!)

Soon (in some period of weeks or months), I will release a new ebook, the third in my “Do Ask Do Tell” series. I want to outline the purpose of the new book.

But it will be useful to review my intentions with my first book, and to compare it to what has changed now.
Anytime someone wants to publish a work conveying a message, he must ask himself “Who cares”.

I know people “care” because at some points in the past (most of all the college and teen years) others “interfered” with what I wanted. So they “care”.

As I approached graduation from high school, I knew, more or less, what I “wanted”.  It was self-expressive and perhaps attention-gathering, and incorporated an interpersonal element. All of it can be understood in terms of both my abilities and deficits. Mainstream “America” today would probably see what I wanted as morally valid. So why did others interfere?

I maintain that the reasons invoke more than simple prejudice against difference, whether immutable or not.  There is value to others in their facing a deeper understanding of their own fears and motives.
On one level, my first book was motivated by a certain parallel between the “justification” for the military gay ban and what had happened to me 35 years before.  I felt that lifting the ban, even in the limited context of “not asking, not pursuing” would redeem my own life and make me feel like an “equal” person, whose life could well continue productively a few more decades.

My own self-perception indeed was that of an individual who had benefitted from the sacrifices of others and avoided certain community risks with some degree of physical cowardice. I must admit that lifting the ban would seem to sand down this feeling.

I sensed that “morality” was only partially expressed in the economic market. I had grown up in a world where it was expected that everyone take his turn doing community or family things that came with natural complementarity, even at some personal sacrifice or risk.  I suspected that many “prohibitionistic” rules about sex (and homosexuality) related to a need to make sure everyone did his part.

I also sensed in myself that a retreat into a world of art and fantasy with on carefully selected interactions with others, on my terms, would work out for me.  And I suspected that others feared that such an example from me would only become too tempting and “contagious” for others, because it was a “logical course” for many people like me.

It’s important to recognized at one a certain common denominator in my thinking: everything came down to the individual, and to how well he or she did.

On one level, my answer to all of this was simple: libertarianism. Stop the government from passing “deceptive” laws intended to manipulate people into conformity. Propose constitutional amendments guaranteeing the “right to privacy” and particularly “private choice” (among consenting adults). This obviously spread to many areas besides sex. (The libertarian Nolan Chart illustrates how pretty well.)

A corollary to restricting government was absolute personal responsibility for the self. I thought, with considerable justification, that a truly free market would not be able to afford discrimination, and that government would not need to be involved in ending discrimination or remedying past discrimination with relativistic and collective measures.

It was apparent that some people did better in life than others; at a certain level, only the individual could fully answer for his or her own performance.  Any other measures tended to involve the use of coercion to force an individual to sacrifice, outside the usual economic modes, for the welfare of others in the group, whether immediate family, tribe, community or country.

It’s true, we sometimes call this kind of thinking “market fundamentalism.”

But it’s also the case that people start out at different places in line, and that people “of privilege” benefit  from the physical sacrifices of others that occur outside the scope of the market.  A good example of this problem was the Vietnam era military and male-only draft, complicated by a history of various deferments. 

Furthermore, having or not having children can  affect the “sacrifices” (in or out of market) a person was likely to make.  By the 1990s, it was apparent that single and childless people are often paid less and pickup some unpaid on-call time for their family-“burdened” coworkers.  But that could mean that the lower paid singles might be more likely to keep their jobs in downturns.

In fact, even in the 80s and 90s, I was well aware that “social conservatives” viewed “inequality” as something that should be remedied by the interpersonal relations within the family (most of all, marriage, which governed everything else).  Inequality among families or social classes was the responsibility of “leaders”, not individuals, and left the political system open to corruption. That was something that could change with the “democratization” of speech on the Internet.

The general approach of my 1997 book was that the market should take care of these “competitive” personal inequities.  While I was well aware of them at an intellectual level, I had not been personally affected by them a lot, except, well, occasionally (compared to what had happened to me during college years). 

But this “broader” view of equality meant that people could be assessed as to how well they “paid their dues” as well as “did their jobs”.  But people were still looked at (comparatively) as “individuals”, and were supposed to be appreciated according to meritocratic thinking.  Ultimately, the presence or absence of progeny family was the result of a private choice, and not supposed to affect how an individual was regarded.  (I did call this the “’Pay Your Bills, Pay Your Dues’ Problem”, referring to the moral outlook of my own late father.)

Andrew Sullivan once said that human rights and equal rights are achieved when “public discrimination” ends and privacy is respected, and “that is all.”  On the surface, that would sound like it would answer many of the gay rights issues. But , “it wasn’t all”.  Three things happened:  the Internet made everyone a public person, we had 9/11 (and dealt with the existential threat of many other possible crises), and demographic changes – the increase in the needs of the elderly and other disabled – set in.

Specific events that would affect me were my mother’s illness, decline, and caregiving needs, and then an incident and some other concerns about my own online activity, and a change in the way people were behaving toward me, and some very curious and perplexing behavior by some employers.

Let me mention the employment thing first.  Numerous times, I was invited into or solicited for situations involving activities like personal mentoring or role modeling, or sales, lead-generation, and customer manipulation – activity that requires skill in and belief in a social hierarchy.  I found myself resisting these beckonings, because they seemed to demand me to become something I wasn’t, as well as sometimes seemed to be trying to get me to support ends, defined by others, that I did not believe. I called this the “’We Give You the Word’” Problem.

And let me also characterize the “Personal Thing.” I became aware that many people shared much more emotion for family and others – relationships given to them [by married parents] as well as chosen by them – than I did.   It seemed that for most “family oriented” people, the scope of affection  (as for siblings and other less direct family members) was determined by the sexual intercourse of others (parents), not by their own actions.  I had come to understand interpersonal emotion (as it could gradate into sexuality) in terms of the “polarity” theory explained in my first book.  But for many people interpersonal emotion took on an existential nature and set their goals, to the point that they no longer (and perhaps never had) saw themselves as individuals competing with one another, to be assessed by an outside “akashic” entity.

I also had to question what I had accomplished with my books and Web 1.0 presence. I had indeed affected the debate on matters like “don’t ask don’t tell” and COPA, and I thought I was playing
“keep ‘em honest”.  If one determined person could do this, that could be revolutionary in a political sense. Nevertheless, especially after a particular incident in 2005 (involving the school systems), one could question my “purposes”, maybe even rising to legal questions about “intent”. Specifically, I hadn’t been motivated by financial gain in the usual sense, and particularly the need to provide for (and go to bat for) other people, as in a family. This came to be known as “’The Privilege of Being Listened To’ Problem”.

The heart of the my life as a “quanderer” however seemed to spin through this dichotomy between becoming one’s own person (and expressing it), and creating a maintaining a stake in one’s group. The obvious observation is that by having children one has a stake in the continuity of one’s own blood, and should care about the world left after he is gone – that’s the heart of “sustainability” – and we often call it “generativity.”   But often, in recent years, I found myself “dragged” into the stakes set up by others in all kinds of areas I wanted nothing to do with. (For specifics, see other postings or chapters.)  Perhaps it’s morally wrong to “get out of things” this way (my own Mother used to say that).  This all does relate to the balance between “individual” and “community”; to have a sustainable community, individuals must take some “risks” (as when they have children) and know that others can back them up.  Then I realized I would have indeed felt differently if I had set up “ownership” of my own stake by having children after all. That means I can flash back in my mind to some specific events in the far distant past and imagine that I might have handled others very differently than I did.

I have not gotten the emotional “kick” from helping those not intact that I see others (more family-centered) get (on a few occasions, I was “ambushed” by some situations with these potentialities), and my interpersonal emotions seem driven by “upward affiliation”;  and my own aesthetic;  all of that seems to me like a “logical conclusion” of exposure to a competitive childhood and the inability (for reasons still not totally clear) to compete according to gender. Yes, I had a “gender deficit”, but those who say that probably have their own dangerous agenda.  I find this to be a “’Chicken and Egg’ Problem” (inviting explanations of immutability).

There is a theory that “women tame men”, and men who don’t find the “power” to reproduce personally promising may have little reason to be “tamed” and to learn to “love people as people” (as my father used to say). Or maybe it’s the other way around. It sounds like a metaphysical problem. “Upward Affiliation Works” when “freedom works”, but as it becomes more public (as in the Internet age), others find it a threat to their experience of socialization. It could become a threat to long term committed marital experience (it’s possible to word this in crass terms).  Yes, there’s something to this: some people will live “satisfyingly” along religious social (and gender-specific) norms when they believe that others do and that others “have to”. (This is really noticeable, I think, in much of Islamic culture, as well as with our own “Christian Right” or the “Moral Majority” of the 1980s.)  It’s also true that if you sum up “what makes individuals tick” you integrate it into something that matters: if too many people remain personally distant from the more vulnerable that often work out of sight, very dangerous social and political trends could follow, as history has often taught us all the way back to the time of Sparta. On the other hand, “upward affiliation” (and a refusal to feel for people on their terms rather than yours) can be seen as a way of admitting that “hierarchy matters” after all.

This leads me back to a potentially shocking conclusion about my own parents. It’s possible that all the William and Mary and then NIH business (again, elsewhere in these blogs) could have threatened their marriage (even more so because I am an only child). It did not in fact, but if it had, much of the rest of my life could have been much harder.

During the 1964 campaign (and just after one of the worst periods for me personally), president LBJ said "we must love each other, or we must die."  Maybe his conduct didn't live up to what he said. But the statement really means something.

First picture, above: A paper plant in West Point, VA, site of a Science Honor Society (Washington-Lee High School, Arlington) field trip in  April, 1961, as I headed down to take a test for a chemistry competition at William and Mary.

Below: JFK on Inauguration Day, 1961, my senior year of High School (from the Kennedy Center). "Ask not..."

So we have a conclusion: responsibility for others, as a moral principle, depends on a lot more than just deciding to engage in behavior that can produce children; part of the idea is to share “community risk” and to stand ready to when necessary, and accept the fact that you own your life (and possessions) in a kind of morally revocable “trust”.