Thursday, May 31, 2012

AOL now offers members Reputation monitoring

AOL is now offering its email account holders (with subscription) several security services, some or all of which I’ll talk about in the Internet Safety blog soon.

It also offers a coordinated account with (Michael Fertik’s company), which I went ahead and signed up for.  I’ll see what kind of activity it reports back to me.   The product is called “My Reputation Discovery”.

Being “retired” and “free”, I don’t think I have the sensitivities of a lot of others, but we’ll see.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A conversation in person about the piracy problem

I got into a conversation recently with a music publisher who said he had originally supported SOPA and PIPA because, yes, piracy is a big problem and people who can afford to pay for content (and particularly software licenses) should pay.  But he also said that elaborate software at the high end is above the financial reach for many amateur musicians and probably developers. 

I did explain the "third party liability" problem and how SOPA, if carelessly implemented at least, could have wound up shutting down the publication of a lot of user-generated content. 

He did come around to agreeing that music publishers and movie distributors have not done what they should to make content affordable in smaller bites for the less well-off.  It was Steve Jobs who forced the issue by developing the 99-cent legal download per song.  And, in fact, the whole strategy for collecting music has changed from the days of "$4.98 long-play classical records" and, starting in the 1980s, "$15.99 CD's."  In the future, music collections will live as MP3 and PDF files in the Cloud.

And movie companies drag their feet in releasing DVD's, charging $24.99 or so -- when a lot of users could afford to pay $1.99 to $3.99 to watch legally online.   Contrary to popular belief, smaller independent films have been affected by piracy.

By the way, BitTorrent, which I don't use personally, is not necessarily the villain it's made out to be.  Record companies and movie distributors are starting to discover legal and productive uses, as explained in the Wikipedia article here

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to make a living on the web in a "do not track" world -- just do the right things?

Here’s something on Ars Technica explaining a bit how DuckGoGo can make money from contextualized ads without tracking, and earned about $115000 in 2011.  Is it easy to make a living doing what is right?
Duck also offers virtual encryption and offers a “Tor pass-through”, according to the story by Cyrus Farivar, link here.  
And Britain, following the dictates of the EU, now apparently has a law requiring all UK-hosted websites to inform visitors about any tracking they do, story on Slashdot here.  I did not see that warning now when I went to the BBC news website, yet.

Some people really do support families publishing on the Web -- and do what they want anyway, you know. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Khan Academy's "brain teaser" about how to defeat an alien abduction attack: the power of one person, but can he act on his own?

The Khan Academy has a 17-minute “Alien Abduction Brain Teaser” video that offers an interesting example of mathematical induction.

Salman likes to do these lessons himself, drawing sketches on a virtual blackboard, producing inexpensive animation that requires no film editing before publication on YouTube.  His voice always sounds comforting.  He would be a good classroom math teacher if he wanted to be.

In this problem, ten people have been abducted, and each represents the welfare of one-tenth of the world’s population. The aliens put a hat, either blue or purple,  on the back scalp of each person, who can see those in front but not behind. The people (as in the IFC film “Exam”) have 24 hours to come up with a strategy.  Each person, in reverse order, will be asked the color of his hat. If he guesses right, he and his people are saved, from being converted to mushroom or fungus farms. (This sounds like a notorious Bible story, doesn’t it.)  There is a way, involving counts of even or odd occurrences of a color, to answer in such a way that all people but the rear person can survive.  The rear person is exposed to a possible Isaac-like “sacrifice”.

The puzzle would work, of course, for any finite number of people. 

Why is this important to me?  “Mathematical induction” (here combined with a little number theory) is certainly an important way to prove many mathematical propositions.  More nebulous is inductive reasoning, and statistical prediction, and settings of the “scientific method”.   (I suspect Khan has videos on these.)
In my own life, in a few areas (“self-broadcast” and personal relationships), I certainly have experienced a dose of having to listen, sometimes after the fact, of what people “want” from me, and thing is morally “right” for me.  Some of this has to do with my own dependence on “fantasy” and interest in self-broadcast without the expected willingness to accept intimate or personal contact with other people on their terms rather than mine – before being noticed globally.  I can extrapolate the “moral principles” involved, but then I start noticing that people want contradictory results.  Even so, “induction” from the possible color of my own “hat” can cover a lot of moral territory.

There are ways to complicate the experiment.  Imagine that all the abductees are young men, and are each expected to step into or dive into separate swimming eddies, some of which contain chemical depilatories.  Afterwards, they can’t see themselves or those behind, but can still see those in front.  (Believe it or not, a health club in Dallas had an “accident” like this with its whirlpool in the 1980s.) 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Baseball shows how life can be "unfair", doesn't it (look at scheduling glitches -- they invite more injuries)

Well, back to a favorite legacy topic, baseball.  The Washington Nationals, having spanked the Atlanta Braves in the Braves’ own park yesterday a second day in a row, have to play a Sunday night game again, on national cable (ESPN).  And it’s an hour later, at 8:05 PM, as if in the Midwest.

The Monday, Memorial Day, the Nats have to play a Memorial Day road game at 1:10 PM in Miami’s new Marlins Park.

Now it’s true that Miami’s park is retractable, so I guess there will be air conditioning against Miami daytime heat. But you’re asking the visiting team to play late on one night, risk extra innings or storms, and travel  500 miles or so (by charter to be sure) and suit up before noon in another city the next day.

Of course, this puts the visiting team at an increased disadvantage.  But the biggest objection to this schedule anomaly is that increases the risk of more player injuries.  And the Nationals already more than their share.   Jayson Werth broke his wrist during the last unusual Sunday night game, after making a foolish outfield dive for an uncatchable single.  I had to watch this gruesome event while dining in a sports bar during the game (Thirsty Bernie's).  Other teams are hurting, too, including the Braves.

It’s a little surprising that the players’ union or even the clubs allowed financial greed from cable media to impose such a risk.  Either the Atlanta game should have been played at the usual Sunday afternoon time, or the Miami Memorial Day game should be played in the evening.  Why not?

I can remember, when I first started following baseball, that teams in the 1950s didn’t always use air travel.  Getaway games sometimes were shortened so visiting teams could catch trains.  I remember a particular Senators’ loss in Detroit so it could catch a train to Cleveland.  In those nostalgic days, in the AL, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Kansas City (or even St. Louis) were “the West”.

In 1965, when I visited a graduate student friend at the University of Pittsburgh by bus (from DC), I had the “privilege” of encountering the New York Mets at a Greyhound bus station, having just been swept in Pittsburgh.

Life’s not fair, they say.  Sometimes it’s more about the “common good” than perfect justice for the individual.  (I’ve written about individual unfairness and “sacrifice” a lot here under my “rules of engagement” and “personal ethics” labels.)  But in this case, baseball, it suddenly is about corporate greed again.

I wonder how “conservative” columnist George Will (who wrote “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball”) will weigh in on this one.

Wikipedia attribution link for Marlins Park. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Old DMCA questions about suppressing ads in playback return

Is it copyright infringement for consumers to skip commercials, or for companies selling any playback media devices to help consumers do that?

On a superficial level, I had thought that the DMCA of 1998 forbade that, but there is a new perspective at Electronic Frontier Foundation by Mitch Stolz here, “TV Networks say you’re breaking the law when you skip commercials”, link here.  

In fact, on YouTube and some other playback sites, advertisers regularly let you skip most of the commercials. 
On the other hand, when you watch an episode “free” of a popular network series (like ABC’s “Revenge”), you typically have to let all the commercials play, adding 20 minutes to 43 minutes of actual content.  ABC and NBC seem to have gotten better at this, but on CWTV I’ve had trouble with playback hanging coming out of commercials.  The same is true on the gay-oriented Logo.

Keep in mind, advertisers really need you to see their messages when you get to watch anything you want “free” at any time.  Somehow, it has to be paid for.  So fantasize about buying your first hybrid, please.
Update: June 2:

Check Brian Stelter, NYT, "The Myth of Fast-Forwarding Past the Ads", Dec. 20, 2010, here.

And on p. 59 of the June 4, 2012 Time Magazine, check James Poniewozik, look at "Stealing the Shows: Ad-skipping viewers aren't thieves. They're the future", link here

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Well known Internet attorney defends working for Backpage

Internet attorney Liz Mcougall has a “last page” column in Bloomberg Business Week May 21, 2012 in the “Hard Choices” column explaining her quitting everything else to defend the erotic services of Craigslist and then Backpage. Craigslist had at one time started charging for the ads at the request of states’ attorneys general who wanted to be able to track abuse. Then the law enforcement world turned around and accused Craiglist of profiteering.  Craiglist pulled out (after the infamous case in Massachusetts – see movies blog Jan. 3, 2011), but Backpage promised McDougall it would stay in, now her only client. Sometimes “free” really can pose a risk, however. The link for the column is here.
She says she can take the “demonizing” because otherwise services like this would move to small sites without the scale to monitor ads or content.  Backpage, as part of Village Voice, is big enough to pay the freight for the risk it creates.

Does the whole idea of monitoring ads run in contradiction to Section 230?

"Workers" defend the scale and monitoring of Backpage and say it's riskier to drive this underground, as on here.

Remember, Ashton Kutcher says "Real men don't buy girls."  Think what this does overseas in poor or autocratic countries.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chelsea Clinton argues that we have to start paying more attention to the effect of Internet freedoms on children

Chelsea Clinton and James P. Steyer have a disturbing op-ed on CNN, “Is the Internet Hurting Children?”, link here

Pediatricians have been saying for some time that kids should not be exposed to media until at least the age of 2 or so, because rapid motion in media could interfere with normal development. 
But other questions are intensifying: questions about privacy, long term reputation, and cognitive and social development usually achieved only in “the real world”. The editorial makes special notice of the permanence of digital memory.

The ability of people to “make names for themselves” without direct social interaction or real world competition will certainly raise some questions in the future.  For example, one could postulate a rule that one should not be allowed to self-publish anything without supervision and without its paying ts own way in terms of income (partly to cover the hidden risks involved).  Or one could be denied a global voice until he or she has other people to provide for.  Both of these would deep-six me.  But they would raise real questions about how our whole system of individualism and personal responsibility should work.

In fact, my presence on the web for fifteen years or so may well have contributed to the “keep ‘em honest” idea that helped overturn DADT, COPA, and even sodomy laws.  I just didn’t go away.  One would think I am simply protected by the First Amendment.  But really, it’s because the legal system has protected providers from downstream liability, by and large (DMCA Safe Harbor ad Section 230).  That immunity does have its social costs and risks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

WSJ supports CISPA, contradicting EFF, ACLU

Contradicting civil libertarian claims of indirect dangers to free speech, the Wall Street Journal on Monday "came out" and supported CISPA (even with a hashtag), in an editorial "Who's afraid of CISPA?", link here  (paywall may be required).

The WSJ discusses the milder Senate version, which it says would require scrubbing of data (rather like a pollution control metaphor for carbon sequestration, perhaps), to the point that not many parties would try to comply.

It also considers the practical threat of spying on ordinary commercial and personal (or expressive) activity online remote, and copyright or trademark infringement matters are supposed to be excluded,  Still, it can be hard to trust that the line is drawn in a reliable place. Tides shift. And  Some elipses are annular!

Last picture:  the reduced sunlight led to darker sky but intense reflective illumination of objects on the ground, leading to an "another planet" effect (or maybe "Planet Hollywood") during the eclipse.  A lot of people admit to looking at the Sun.

One other little thing in the WSJ today.  An article warned Facebook users: "If you don't pay for something, you're not a customer. You're the product being sold."  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

New medical technology raises ethical, community questions about openness for "personal" donations

A CNN piece by Arielle Hawkins, "Get a paper cut, save a life" (link here) does bring up a new wrinkle in modern debates on ethics, and individualism, and social capital.

Specifically, the story relates to the opportunity to mail in a swab of blood after a minor household cut to get typed for possible bone marrow donations.

One issue that comes to mind at once is the ban on blood donations from MSM (most gay men), still in effect in the US despite increasing evidence that it may not be necessary medically given modern testing for HIV.

I can recall that, about a year before the HIV crisis became public, that banks in Dallas were including materials for becoming "superdonors" (of bone marrow) in their monthly mailed statements.  

But a deeper question concerns one's responsibility as "a member of the community" -- to be able offer organs or "body parts" -- and because a marrow donation is done by a living person, it calls for much more sacrifice than by signing up for post-mortem organ donation (as with a recent Facebook push, which was said to put a lot of pressure on people if they saw that their Friends had signed up).  Of course, the same sacrifice happens with kidney donations.

When I was growing up, mostly in the 50s, there was not this sort of social pressure to be available to give others help with one's own body -- except for the regular bloodmobiles.  There was not the pressure to raise money for very specific medical causes -- like breast cancer.  That is partly, of course, because much less could be done about many problems than now.  During my coming of age, end-of-life was accepted as inevitable, not always postponable.

Cultural changes have multiple faces.  Sometimes more openness forces more conformity, not just generosity.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mark Zuckerberg rings opening bell at NASDAQ, culminating what started that night in a Harvard dorm room

Mark Zuckerberg rang the opening bell at NASDAQ on Friday morning, May 18, the day of Facebook's "historic" IPO at $38 a share, which analysts say will make Facebook's valuation at 100 times "trailing earnings".  IBN has a story here.

CBS News Tech Talk had a detailed gospel here.  The pictures show Mark in his hoodie and loafers; it was not immediately reported whether he put on an EDS suit for the opening bell this morning.

"Facebook was not originally created to be a company" Mark has said.  Neither was my "Do ask do tell".  But I do envision (at least) imagine a movie-- even if the plot involves living on another world shaped as a Mobius strip.

There are "two sides" to every story.  Ben Mezrich presents Facebook and Zuckerberg's wealth as an "accident", but maybe an exercise in social Darwinism.  In trying to meet some girls, the story goes, Mark wrote a program one weekday night in a dorm room.  How to model the whole world, and then rule the world (and I don't mean like Vantage in the insurance software business).

The press also reports that cofounder Eduardo Saverin will avoid taxes by becoming a citizen of Singapore. More conservatives are warning that wealthy people will flee Obama's plans for higher taxes on the rich.

The story of Chris Hughes is interesting -- another time.

On Saturday, media sources announced Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan had gotten married, right after the IPO.  Right now, there is just a dog.  A cat maybe?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tracking and correlating to anti-social behaviors really could affect people; Twitter's new approach

Twitter has announced an interesting technique for recommending “who to follow”, based on people who follow similar websites with embedded Twitter gadgets.  But Twitter says it deletes actual browsing histories after 10 days.  The details are here
Electronic Frontier Foundation says that this mechanism shows a commitment to “do not track”, in a piece by Rainey Reitman, here.  EFF says that DNT really isn’t about resisting the behavioral placement of ads; it’s about user control of information that could provide hostile people portraits of one’s inner life.
Of course, I’ve probably characterized my own inner life pretty explicitly anyway.  What you read is what you get.

Here’s a piece from Bloomberg Law School (YouTube podcast) about the privacy implications of “liking” on Facebook (or YouTube).

The law professor (Lori Andrews, from Chicago) says that information on “likes” could be correlate to bill paying behavior and even affect credit scores or credit worthiness or employability some day.  Overseas, imagine the ramifications for families in despotic countries. She even gives a good example of a problem with (even a knowledge site).  She mentions the future dangers of facial recognition software in conjunction with pictures taken of people in bars or various other "controversial" places.   She wants an "opt-in" approach rather than opt-out, as in browsers. Note, my own does not track users at all in any way, but there are aggregate statistics on hits by country and various other categories  

Andrews authored "I know Who You Are; I Saw What You Did" (Free Press, 2012). 

Webmasters always have the possibility of tracking down specific IP addresses that searched for specific strings and found specific associated web pages, which could have legal significance.  (Again, see July 27, 2007). 

Picture: Near Chaco Canyon, NM, where a culture spent 250 years tearing itself down and leaving. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to target commercials in a "do not track" world -- Hulu has an idea

Today, while watching a film on Hulu, I noticed a new strategy toward offering "free content" profitably.

There were commercials every 8 minutes or so (some YouTube videos do that,as to most network episode rebroadcasts, as well as Logo).  But these were shorter than typical network commercials, simpler, and each had a survey question as to whether the product offered as interesting to the viewer.  (The first sponsor was GEICO, and that reminded me of something important.)  The survey question would be used to tailor the ads (rather than using tracking cookies).  The sponsor's trade dress would show at the bottom of the screen below the film until the next ad appeared.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Facebook IPO looks daring, while cases of user misuse reach the media

MSNBC has a host of stories about defamation on Facebook, often by creating fake accounts, including one in Britain where a woman is suing to discover the identities of “trolls” who set up a page impersonating her after she supported an unpopular reality show host.

In Georgia, a 14 year old teen is suing classmates for making a false Facebook profile which caused her to be bullied, with the AP-MSNBC story by Dorie Turner and Doug Bluestein here, link.  In most states, including Georgia, authorities are limited in what they can to do to prosecute cases that occur off campus (the Myspace prosecution in Missouri did not work).  So libel lawsuits against other teens or their parents may become more common.

MSNBC is also covering an ACLU appeal of an expulsion of some Indiana high school grils for a “hit list” on Facebook.

Facebook was also criticized recently for removing a picture of a boy with Downs Syndrome posted by the mother.  Facebook often outsources much of its content moderation, and with the volume of cases, false positives and mistakes occur.

All of this happens as Facebook prepares for its IPO Friday.
Henry Blodget has a video on the Daily Ticker about the IPO, and mentions that Mark Zuckerberg seems more interested in his social message than just making money.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is knowledge really "free"?

I ran across a commentary (May 6) by a young elementary school teacher and recent college graduate himself, Guthrie Andres, “The Value of Knowledge”, with link here

Mr. Andres discusses the proliferation of online courses and their possibly unexpected effectiveness in organizing material.  He mentions the Khan Academy, to which I have sometimes referred.  He provides the discussion against a backdrop of rising costs for college education and increase in college graduate debt (such as the Sunday New York Times today, May 12, story by Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren, link, requires paywall) .

I also recall a discussion on ABC Nightline a few years ago with Jimmy Wales about the idea of mastering “all knowledge”.

Certainly, I have been in the “free knowledge” business ever since the I started my websites (in 1997) to back up my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book (check me on Amazon).

Knowledge does not behave in our culture the way other goods and services do (but, then again, neither does health care).  I sometimes get pressured to get more into activities to “sell” (or hucksterize) and prove that I can make other people money in the short term with the “knowledge” I can offer – or else maybe go away. 
There’s something disturbing about all of this – mastering knowledge and creating and interacting with art and culture can augment one’s own self-concept, regardless of who else is around, regardless of whether one is dating or has a life partner or dependents, or any measurable responsibility for others (chosen by one’s own actions or not).

When I was a tween, my father used to complain “You read….” .  I was right about some things even then (like the harm of too much fat), and didn’t want to play others’ “competitive” games.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Twitter goes to bat for "Occupy" users fighting court order

Twitter’s challenge to a “search” order from a court of user data in conjunction with an “Occupy Wall Street” protest is bringing up important legal concepts, as in a story in the Los Angeles Times by Michelle Maltais, May 8, here

Twitter has been praised for going to bat for its users to protect them from unreasonable government seizure.
Twitter points out that its Terms of Service do not preclude a user’s from owning his own content, as far as the right to profit from it or redistribute elsewhere or control its reproduction.

It also points out provisions of the Stored Communications Act (Wikipedia link), part of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act) that protect ISP’s from undue burdens. 

There is also a question as to whether “digital space” is legally like a person’s home (a “Second Life” concept) for Fourth Amendment purposes. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

DMCA Safe Harbor weakness invites abuse during political campaigns; how about some sportsmanship in MLB?

Parker Higgins has an important perspective on Electronic Frontier Foundation noting the ease with which the DMCA Safe Harbor takedown procedure can be abused for political purposes.  A service provider has to take down material immediately upon receiving a complaint, and then has at least ten days to repost the material if it’s found that the complaint was bogus.

YouTube did restore a DailyKos montage of Rush Limbaugh’s “worst moments” when found to be fair use.  But restoration has not always happened quickly in the past.

The possibility of using temporary web censorship as a political weapon comports with the concerns a few years ago about campaign finance reform and blogging.

The link for EFF’s story is here.

This is also a day to make a note about sportsmanship.  The behavior of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, hitting Bryce Harper “deliberately” with a pitch and drawing a fine, is case in point.  (MLB link is here.    Harper later stole home to put the Nats in the lead.)  That looks especially egregious on a night that Jayson Werth, another export from the Phillies, suffered a season-threatening wrist fracture. The Phillies, genuinely “worried”, wanted to make their point Sunday night.  All in front of me at a Thirsty Bernie’s sports bar, as I returned from a film festival. “It’s only a game”. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

What's the most galling example of "forced" altruism?

I saw the film “Love Free or Die” about Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson in Baltimore today, and I’ll review it very soon (tomorrow).

But one thought struck me apart from the movie, particularly adding on to posts May 4 and April 12.
In history, most people have indeed lived in tribal or faith-related societies (sometimes nationalistic or communistic) based on the idea that a common good lies above the individual and must be respected, partly because societies, groups and families must compete to survive and a sometimes hostile world, beyond the control of any one person.  Most people have faced the pull of “altruism” (as in Edward O. Wilson’s recent book about eusociality) from the group requiring personal sacrifice, beyond the idea of simply taking responsibility for the choices one makes.

Sometimes these “sacrifices” involve taking risks to “protect” others (by no means limited to just one’s own children), and sometimes they involve accepting the will of the group or family in determining the course of one’s life rather than following one’s own personal talents and gifts.  And sometimes they involve willingness to show emotional openness and accept the company, sometime intimate company, of others that one would not normally have chosen just on one’s own. The latter has sometimes been particularly disturbing to me.  It’s upsetting in part because I was not in the past always “equal” to others in matters involving formation of or recognition of relationships.  So don’t come to me now, just because it’s tough.  I was never quite an equal on the team before.  The other idea is, I could accept something like this if I thought everyone else had to. 

That sounds like pretty much the moral code a lot of older people grew up with.  In the Vatican idea of sexual morality, “infidelity” was an offense against the whole community, not just a marriage partner, and “adultery by thought” was as much a sin as anything.  Any sexual pleasure at all implied an openness to taking possible responsibility for others, where one does not always know the potential “quality” of someone who could become dependent.  Sometimes the best one can do is help another person live as well as possible, not achieve according to one’s own standards of how one wants significant others in life to perform.  Likewise, any stake in public life involved having a stake in the lives of others, and responsibility for them.  When one has become public, indifference merges into hostility.

Of course, we can see where this kind of moral thinking can lead.  A somewhat authoritarian culture, where the “most able” (and hardest working) are in charge and are responsible for making sure everyone else’s life has “meaning” within the social structure.  In benevolent circumstances, such a culture can seem stable and sustainable for a long time, and then suddenly collapse.  (What did happen to the Soviet Union?)
Such a culture, as a paradox, also encourages “upward affiliation” among those having trouble competing for position in the “tribe”.  That can lead to focus on one’s own thoughts and talents and a resentment of being expected to pay attention to people one does not “choose” (the “best that I can do” syndrome.) 

Individualism (and resultant libertarianism) is a modern antidote to all this.  Personal responsibility becomes an absolute concept, and everyone becomes his or her own moral agent.  But common goals far by the wayside, and non-competitive people drop on the floor, and may not survive at all. Or they may become nihilistic or destructive, believing none of society’s legal standards are meaningful because it’s impossible to earn what one has without hidden dependence on others.  An overly individualistic society may not be sustainable either, and could break down into lawlessness.  That leads to another galling circumstance: forgiveness being expected for someone who has shown contempt.  

There is no such thing as a perfect social-political system, and there is no way not to sin.  That may be why we need Grace!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Why do some cultures regard blasphemy as a personal crime?

A recent “free speech” case in Tunisia involved the popular protest and prosecution of a cable television operator for showing an animated film that showed a young Iranian woman questioning “Allah” and showed God as a person.

In the scramble of arguments, one of the ideas was that one is not allowed to speak ill of another’s religious beliefs.

In western culture, we can’t call people “names” based on their supposed affiliation with groups by any parameter (religion, race, sexual orientation).  But we can criticize actual beliefs.  Systems of thought or faith are thought of as separate from the people who hold them.

That doesn’t seem to be true in Islamist or other non-Western cultures.  The belief system is seen as part of “who the person is.”  In such cultures, there may be less opportunity for people to transcend their circumstances.  So what seems “irrational” to us (blasphemy) starts to become understandable.

People also typically need to maintain stable belief systems in order that their social "adjustment" remains productive and satisfying. So people don't like to be exposed to too much stimulus that could undermine their "brain beliefs".  Our laws against nudity, for example, depend on this idea, and can extend to other areas. 

This all fits with the ideas about “tribalism” and group loyalties so well described in Edward O. Wilson’s book, “The Social Conquest of Earth”.  
Pictures: from the Old Post Office Tower, Washington, visit on Thursday.  

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Copyright trolls apply the Righthaven idea back on P2P

Mitch Stoltz has an important perspective on Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “deeplinks blog” on May Day, “Hollywood’s Trolls”, link (website url) here.  
Although the RIAA stopped mass-suing for downloading music through P2P a few years ago, it seems that a number of unscrupulous operators are following the Righthaven model and re-applying it back to the P2P world and issuing mass “John Doe” lawsuits.
The threat of a bankrupting $150000 statutory judgment for downloading a single song illegally does force people to settle.  The article mentions that sometimes lawyers are suing web hosts or computer owners who may not be aware that they can protect themselves from secondary liability (through Safe Harbor).  This is somewhat different from Righthaven, which went after original authors who might not have access to Safe Harbor mechanisms at all.
One good question would come up with wireless routers, which are increasingly common in homes and even apartments as ISP’s promote them as the most economical way to connect multiple computers.  (These replace multiple-connect modems.) And then home routers are efficient, sometimes too efficient.  Outside the premises, thieves could do illegal downloads on an unprotected (by password or insufficient security) router and cause liability to the owner.
By the way, I like it when hotels have hardwired Internet connections (instead of WiFi).  The only one so far in NYC that has had one for me was a Holiday Inn Express in Chelsea.  

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Once a blogger, always a journalist. You can never take sides again!

May Day is, I guess, a time for “moralistic” reflection, Left Wing style.  I recall a “May Day” spent in Lourdes, France, in 2001, watching the pilgrims come back from the grottos, watching young men enter possibly challenging ceremonies on stage.

One reflection is, “One a journalist, always a journalist”.  That’s even true for blogger journalists (whatever “Zola” says about bloggers as journalists in the Tribeca film “High Tech, Low Life”, reviewed on the movies blog April 25.)

I recall the precise moment of epiphany when I knew I would author my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book.  I was on vacation, on a Saturday in a small town in Colorado in August 1994, 2000 miles from home, in a “family restaurant”, having just bought a film roll.  I saw a small piece on an obscure “gays in the military” case in a local paper, while I munched on a chili cheeseburger.  That did it for me.  It felt great all afternoon, as I drove back west, towards Scottsbluff and then to Cheyenne, that I would tell my own story in formal fashion.  I had recently turned 51 then.

I also recall the  moment, around 4:25 PM on Friday July 11, 1997, when I became “officially published”, as I mailed the required registration copies of my book to the Library of Congress from a local post office in northern VA. I was 54 then.  I don’t think I’ve given the link for it, which is here

In time, I would draw readership by supplementing the book on the Web, first with Hometown AOL (as it was in 1997), and then my own “” which would become “”.  The issue that had motivated my journey into authorship, “gays in the military” and “don’t ask don’t tell”, has the unusual property of imparting a lot of collateral issues that circle it in the general population, including privacy, forced intimacy, self-expression, and particularly “unit cohesion” (read “eusociality” or “social capital”).  I wound up tracking almost all major issues on my websites and blogs and coordinating my coverage with an “opposing viewpoints” perspective.

In doing so, I certainly could attract attention to myself, resulting in “passive” social networking (good), but possibly negative attention, even to those connected to me (family, such as mother)  who might resent my “high profile” when connected to issues in which I had never volunteered to take a direct personal stake.
I also found, after “retirement” at the end of 2001 from my “conventional” career in I.T. (where I had functioned privately as an “individual contributor”), myself being approached to all kinds of other causes, in the “interim job hunting” area, volunteerism, contributions, and family  -- and with lots of unsolicited emails and phone calls.

As I note, DADT was a core issue for me, as was free speech (COPA), so that certainly led me to focus on associated organizations, like SLDN and EFF.  What I do find, however, that, outside of these, it is very difficult to warm up to going to bat for “other people’s causes” in so many other areas.  From a psychological viewpoint, they seem equivalent.  One is not necessarily more critical than the others.  (Well, some are.  For demographic reasons, Alzheimer’s is very critical, for example; it may become the public health threat of the early 21st Century.  “No offense”, but the many cancers and heart disease are not;  they are coming up because people live longer and medically we can do more about them than we could when I was growing up and they weren’t seen as causes.  But other issues, like polio, were seen as critical then.  Today, scientific solutions to potential threats like pandemics, energy breakdown, climate change, etc. do seem the highest of the priorities to me.)

I am in a phase right now where I have a tremendous amount to do to get my books, screenplay scripts, and music up to “professional” standards, ready for the big leagues.  It’s difficult to do this when there are a lot of interruptions (or infrastructure disruptions).  So I have to look at volunteer opportunities very carefully and selectively.  Recently, there was a one day (April 28) where many churches offered people for home fix-ups for elderly, disabled  I think it was called an “Annual National Rebuilding Day” (link).  Is this really efficient, and effective, for 30 people from one church to descend on one home where the person doesn’t know them?  I did do this in 2011.  I didn’t this year.  But I don’t think it’s really about efficiency.  It’s about “social capital”.  But to be effective at this, it seems to me now like you need to be committed to it all the time.  I could wonder the same things about the youth “30 Hour Famine” that many churches had in February.

There is, however, something about the justice of all of this.  I’ve always seen people as responsible for themselves as individuals, and I know that people definitely don’t start “at the same place in line”. I sense in a way that I didn’t earlier that “family matters” for its own sake.  I can certainly see where the destructive nihilism we see in so many individuals comes from, and it can be very difficult to contain.  Losses incurred by the individualist become absolute.  So one finds oneself constantly drawn and pulled by others who insist that someone like me “join something” before being heard from.

But once someone like me becomes a “forward observer”, it’s difficult to put enough time into meeting other people’s “real needs” to be effective at it.  

The same thing tends to be true of the “retiree job market”.  So much of it is about selling “someone else’s paradigm”, which may not really be any good in the grand scheme of things.  “Objectivity” (a requirement for journalists) is generally not welcome in the “real world”. (t didn't even work in teaching, although for a while I thought it could.)  And we have become so jealous of our individualism that a lot of us don’t like to be “sold to” or approached.  Things really have changed.

It’s a good thing I was already 51 when I experienced by 1994 “epiphany” and could retire relatively early.  Mentally, I signed up for life. Once a (blogger) journalist, always a journalist.