Wednesday, October 31, 2012

50 Years ago today, I was a "mental patient"; comparing crises a half-century apart; web sites can be lost in catastrophes

Fifty years and one day ago, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 1962, in the pre-dawn hours, I was half-asleep in a windowless green-tile hospital room, with one roommate, at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesday, Maryland.

I written the details of my “hospitalization” and (what amounts to) reparative therapy before.  That particular night, right after the Cuban Missile Crisis had resolved “on the outside” (as we called it), I had come down with a typical cold, and saline drops hardly did much.  There were, I believe, three regular rooms with other patients on the way to the “Day Room” in the middle of Unit 3-West.  From the next room, I heard cries and screams, from a particular female patient who had recently arrived.  Her mantra, in group therapy, had been something like, “Why can’t we love everybody?”  That night, I overheard (like in a soap opera) the psychiatric  nurse scold her in the room, and saying she would get a fix “in the muscle”. 

Fifty years ago.  It’s amazing how time flies.  On the half-century anniversary of that morning, as the Cuban crisis ended, the whole East Coast would find its modern way of life challenged by a freak super-storm, which could become a more common occurrence in the future because of the grand summation of so much individualistic excess.

I was 19 then, thin and gawky, and physically weaker than other boys, slipshod about details of personal appearance (shirt tails and the like), already with a slightly receding hairline visible from a simple crew cut (more common in those days), and yet to have any chest hair.  Much of the therapy had to do with my attitude about my own body, and what I made of the appearance of others.  I tended to see a world through symbols that represented abstractions, such as moral worth and worth and virtue,  that did not have much use for the relativism of real life with real people, where a certain flexibility and openness are required to function as part of a family or social group – to “belong”. 

The psychiatrists were very concerned with my fantasies as a source of pleasure, not really because of any direct harm (there was none), but because of the indirect implications for others if it was OK to build a life this way.  The fact that, as an only son, I would not give my parents a lineage was not the least of these, but it seems curious that I have any “moral responsibility” for that.  

Yet concerned they were. Nurses dutifully wrote down any sarcastic wisecrack that I made, as if their existential reading mattered as much as anything in international relations.  Everyone took offense to the idea that I reacted to earlier shame from others (the teasing, sometimes bullying) by becoming an “oddball”, capable of keeping others on their toes -- as if I thought that no one else with developmental issues comparable to mine should ever have families either (and that's a big "threat").  It was like, at some point, all priorities were to change, from sexual reticence to outright courtship, a psychological windshift that accompanies any cold front.  I would keep rotating, threatening to spin down. My attitude was elitist, the antithesis of that wailing female patient. Later, I saw in my medical records a diagnosis of "schizoid personality". 

Of course, no one then quite saw that technology would make an outlier like me productive, perhaps a useful check on the necessarily shortsighted conformity of others.  All of that is possible by self-expression: Internet user-generated content and social media.  People could believe they were listened to or "heard", even if mostly (out of their sight lines) by spam bots.  And we could, for any number of reasons well covered here, see that threatened.

The New York Times (Business Day, Oct. 31) has a sobering front page story by Quetin Hardy and Jenna Wortham, “When floodwaters rise, web sites may fall” like dominoes.  Some ISP’s may indeed have trouble operating if their servers or power sources were located in low-lying areas.  I have not experienced any difficulty with my own sites.  Two of the ISP’s are located in Loudoun County, VA, well inland in huge server farms.  My Google stuff I believe is largely hosted around Charlotte NC (or maybe Raleigh-Durham).  So is a lot of Facebook.  These areas are relatively “safe”.  One ISP relocated a lot of its servers from Florida to inland (Piedmont) Virginia after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 shut down many of its customers (including me) for a couple days.  The “Bits” link is here.

We would do well to ponder these questions with other likely disasters, such as mega-earthquakes and particularly super solar geomagnetic storms, which will be much worse.

Extra: Mitt Romney, campaigning in Florida, is talking about “sacrifice”, about moms and dads giving up exchanging Christmas presents so they will have enough for their kids, about living for purposes greater than themselves (or what they can imagine by themselves).  Of course, those common purposes could turn out to be “wrong”.  I wondered, what does that say about the people who didn’t have their own kids?  That brings me back to that night at NIH.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Neither political party talks about taking care of infrastructure: do we need to learn to live together and take care of each other just because catastrophes are ultimately unavoidable?

Let me return to my metaphor: Is the isolated queen pawn in the Tarrasch Defense of the Queen’s Gambit a weakness, bringing down a whole army or country, or a strength – an innovative, rugged individual who minds his own business first? Chess masters still seem to see it as a liability.

It’s a good thing to have your own world together as an individual.  It’s better for you if you can accomplish things publicly on your own. Writers, musicians and composers, chess players, and the like all know that.  If you have your own act together, you don’t have to become jealous or overly “needy” when approaching a relationship.  (I really like the idea of freedom from jealousy; it’s a real luxury not many people can afford.)
So far, that all fits libertarian-to-conservative thinking (with a little bit of Ayn Rand thrown in).  But no person accomplishes anything until his output benefits other people.  An individual identity has meaning only in its relation to others. 

People often need to be left alone to innovate.  They often need to take particular care with their own technical infrastructure. That can include protecting personal computers and wireless equipment, musical instruments, libraries or collections, backups of work (magnetic, optical, and in the cloud).  There is no perfect way to guarantee that total loss of work could not happen.  Cloud backups could be hacked (and this has happened – see my Internet Safety blog Aug. 17, 2012), magnetic flash backups could be destroyed by electromagnetic or magnetic pulse, and all physical backups, even if some are stored offsite in a bank vault, could be at risk in a Tuscaloosa or Joplin-scale tornado. Sudden evacuations might preclude an auteur’s ability to take his work with him. And sometimes government condemns residences before individuals have time to collect their work.  
It is true that it makes sense to be careful, if possible, where you live.  It’s better to live on higher ground, in drier climates, but still in urban areas with modern utility infrastructure.  If you happen to live in an exposed coastal area, you need to make arrangement to relocate inland whenever necessary with backup rental space.  But not everyone has the luxury of doing this, and we all depend on people willing to take more risks for us.  (And about living in earthquake-vulnerable areas?  That question is deceptive. A similar question can come up with wildfires  And it seems that most people don't have the resources to remove dangerous trees near their homes.)

There was a lot of talk this week about the unprecedented nature of the hybrid storm Sandy (hurricane and noreaster), and the scale of personal devastation that can result.  This morning, there are reports of unimagined damage to ConEd’s power grid for parts of Manhattan – and people living in urban areas with underground utilities usually expect to be immune from storms.  But it could be worse.  We could have a solar geomagnetic storm (so called “solar flares” and associated coronal mass ejections) – still a natural disaster – and face severe power and technology disruptions in large areas for months.  And since 9/11, we’ve learned about apocalyptic scenarios determined terrorists could cause – from nuclear detonations to radiation dispersal and electromagnetic pulse which – contrary to what is usually written – does not necessarily  require nuclear materials and can happen in a more local but still wide-area manner.

In such cases, individuals often lose their own footholds on the world and thrown into acknowledging their interdependence with others. They may lose their own place in the world and be forced to support others in very personal ways that they would have found repugnant.  They may have to join causes that they find intellectually incomplete.  They have to surrender their own pride.

In truth, anyone can become homeless and poor; catastrophe can become the great equalizer (although we had a barracks joke at Fort Eustis in 1969 when I was in the Army, that “the razor blade “ is the great equalizer, as is a “Big Muskie”).   Anyone can take his turn with being the "less fortunate" and find his luck runs out.  There are people  (terrorists and Maoist revolutionaries) who know this and feel provoked or “inspired” by thus very dangerous notion.  The NBC series “Revolution” seems based on this idea.  Technology enables unprecedented individual freedom, and in the grand scheme of things it can seem precarious. 

That raises a good policy question:  why aren’t “we” (as a common good, way above even “the family”) more careful about our infrastructure.  Yes, it’s “we” – there is no “they”.  Our extreme capitalism seems to focus so much on short term profits and earnings for utilities that we really don’t harden our power grids and other aspects of our infrastructure the way we could.  (I’m partly guilty: one of the reasons I’m relatively well off – until “equalized” – in retirement is the large oil, gas, and utilities holdings my father had built up – and I had followed suit, investing in them all my working life.  Energy profits – high oil prices – have paid for all our eldercare!)  To the extent that I am a shareholder in some of these companies now , I want to say, I’m more concern that we take care of our infrastructure and protect it from catastrophe than I am from a few more dollars on share price.  Since neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama talk about this – and since the debate moderators didn’t bring it up – I guess it’s up to me to scream about it.  That’s one of the points of my blogs.  Good example of a policy question:  yes, we need  XL Keystone  new pipelines (GOP side).  But we need also  to invest in hardening what we already have too (Obama side).   And we need to continue reducing carbon emissions (Obama side).  Neither party has got it all right.

Sunday (Oct. 28), a local pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA gave a sermon on “radical hospitality” which was also part of the children’s sermon – motivated by the fears of the impact of the  coming superstorm.  Part of the message was that hardships come to everyone despite our best efforts, and we need to be prepared to live in close contact with one another even when we wouldn’t choose to. (Dr. Daniel Solove, George Washington University law professor, had made a similar point in his book “Understanding Privacy”, review on Books blog Nov. 5, 2008). In fact, the fear and paranoia that can grip people before a storm is the idea that the aftermath could bring “me” low, and force me into very personal interactions with people whom I would not have valued in the past and would have passed by in benign ignorance.  It could undermine all my (or “our”) “ideas” about worthiness, personal responsibility, individuality, equality – all the things we say we believe in with a modern democratic society.  But as we’ve noticed recently, part of a democratic society may well include the willingness from everyone to lift others up. 

Oh, and yes, if we took better care of our “commons”, we might not face this at all.

There’s a duality to the way we experience “being yourself” as both an individual and as “belonging” to a group. An individual can, with enough resources and freedom, explore , investigate and publish the objective and nuanced “truth” about common issues.  But it’s only through some sort of social structure – some of which must operate outside the economic marketplace – that things can really be done.  To some extent, people have to do what is “right” and this involves having specific relationships with others and specific responsibilities for others who depend on “you”.  (What matters then is what is "right" for "my family" and perhaps neighbors, not what is right everywhere on Cloud Atlas.) Maybe pastor Rick Warren has a point when he says “it’s not (always) about you”, or even your own knowledge of the “truth”.  Morality – and “personal responsibility” is indeed a layered, two-way concept.  Sometimes right and wrong are not provable with intellectual resources alone, and relate only to how real people have to live together.  That may be why many people want to find answers to moral questions dictated in scripture.  The two-way street concept of “right and wrong” does characterize most of the teachings in the New Testament.

First picture:  Trinity Brass plays Giovanni Gabrielli canon as postlude. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Statement about my availability during "infrastructure disruptions"; the morality of "lifting up"

One of the major focus areas of my writing is the question:  what are the responsibilities (and and only then rights) of those who are “different”? Yes, I see life through the metaphor of chess middle game positions.  Usually, isolated pawns are a source of weakness, but they can be strong. In an asymmetric, global, technological "Atlas", one person makes a difference. 

I do plan to “announce” some plans soon as to how I will get some materials into professional submission.  To complete this phase of work, I do need a stable environment with everything working, and where any needed repairs have been made or at least scheduled with contractors.  So major storms, especially bizarre events without previous precedent, can be serious distractions. 

I do everything I can to remain connected and able to respond to any questions about my content. 

Sometimes this can be a challenge.  So far, I’ve been able to log on to most of my material from most locations on all car, train and air trips.  One has to be very careful with a number of possible issues when traveling or facing other possible interruptions, including storms and other things like medical treatment or hospitalizations.

I have not seen service providers issue policies regarding the ability to reach content publishers or customers, as long as they have paid (other than the idea that users can be held responsible for misuse of their account by others, including hackers).  ICANN insists that domain owners verify information once a year.  But it is logical to me that, given all the various issues that come from user generated content, service providers are likely to develop more rules in the future and might even require backup contacts.  Further developments in the Section 230 area could require such changes. 

Given the approaching storm ("Sandy"), let me say that I will do everything to stay connected.  I do have a generator, and have the ability to use an iPad as a hot spot if the cable is out.  This usually works (although it was spotty the day after the June derecho).  It is possible to consider temporarily renting a room in a modern high-rise hotel with stable underground utilities if necessary, as long as these facilities have reasonable service within a sensible distance.   But if you find I am hard to reach during this period, the reason will be not only damage to infrastructure right at home but throughout the area. 

I think that this kind of scenario poses serious questions about user content generators who work alone.

 Worse events, like major solar geomagnetic storms, could be imagined, where for some areas of the country continuing to work would become impossible and even some cloud backups could be destroyed.
A good question is, why do I insist on working solo?  I think I’ve covered that.  I don’t like to be beholden to any one specific interest.  Yet, I realize that “solidarity” concerns  (even when somewhat partisan) have some legitimate moral basis: they usually indicate that people have some responsibilities for dependent others (families or others) and have taken risks for others. 

The next question, which this whole discussion curiously motivates (because it suggests that one needs to be responsible for others before speaking out or maybe, in the future, even voting) is why don’t I have a “relationship”?  I can put this in more general terms given modern ideas about sexual orientation.  But when I was younger, I did not feel physically competitive, and found attempts to follow society’s expectations regarding courtship and attempted marriage and lineage to actually be shameful.  I do not like to “play the game” or “compete” when at an obvious disadvantage (with a metaphor of the 1950s baseball Washington Senators).  So I tended to develop a process of “upward affiliation”.  At the same time, I refused relationships with others who had issues comparable to mine.  This kind of discussion can quickly turn unpleasant.

I just got the book “A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future” by O.S. Guiness.  I’ll be reviewing this in full on the books blog, probably in early November (after the storm).   Like other socially conservative writers (George Gilder, Mero, Santorum, and even the libertarian Charles Murray) Guiness the weakening of social capital and organizational ties, which he relates to a willingness to have a permanent reciprocal-love relationship with one person (marriage, in the modern debate), and less interest in raising children or even taking care of other generations.  This is certainly a moral discussion that torques the now old “libertarian” idea that morality is merely about taking responsibility for your own autonomous choices (like causing pregnancy).  Guiness says that freedom requires “belonging” and that this is not just the inverse of ownership, although I don’t necessarily agree with his metaphor (yet).

The crux idea is that a “western democracy” is supposed to place very preferred value on human life, just because it is human.  A logical implication is that it is immoral or unethical to use “freedom” or “autonomy” in a way to isolate those who are less able or less fortunate.  If someone took care of “you” and “you” are different because of some mild disability (along maybe with some intellectual talent but weak social skills), then you owe offering that to someone else (following Josh Groban’s song “You raise me up”).  If this is not expected, society can gradually adopt potentially Fascist ideas on how do deal with the less capable (partly to protect people from having wanted feelings demanded of them by others).  So the moral arguments against “standing alone” have some weight, even though they also relate to debates about sustainability and asymmetry which weren’t around in previous generations (which instead were concerned mainly with national enemies).  Sometimes someone in my situation senses being asked to make a "sacrifice" of personal purpose for the common good not expected of people whose psychological makeup and capacities are more conventional. 

Social isolation, the kind I have (maybe Asperger-like) can create life threatening risks in periods of major disasters or infrastructure collapse.  It can make the isolated nerd look like a fool.   Ideas, principles and personal responsibility all matter.  But an individual only develops meaning in some kind of interaction with others.  Doing it in a chain letter of media (like in “Cloud Atlas”) may not always suffice. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Universities monitor social media use of student athletes, sometimes flouting the law; could employers follow suit?

Sean Gregory has a piece in Time Magazine,  Oct. 22, 2012, p. 56, “Jock Police: Should colleges censor the posts and tweets of their athletes,” link here

Some colleges ban their athletes from Twitter, Facebook (and probably YouTube and Blogger) altogether.  A few school athletic departments require students to give them access to privacy-controlled areas of their social media sites, and Utah State University, at least, requires students to waive any rights to legal protections of their social media pages under the law.  The university specially requires the student to give it the right to break the law.

Generally, universities are concerned about speech that could reflect poorly on the school, particularly with respect to issues like drugs and underage drinking. There are companies that sell universities software that students must install on their own computers that allow athletic departments to monitor speech.  They tend to look for keywords and assess points for certain words (“party” can be a bad word).

These companies include Varsity Monitor (link) and Udiligence (“Reputation Management for Student Athletes, link ).
What would stop ordinary employers from doing the same thing?  Maybe landlords, condo associations, even assisted living communities? 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

EFF goes to bat for man whose data was lost in Megaupload seizure; are shared hosting users at general risk?

Electronic Frontier Foundation has another story on the harm that the Megaupload seizure by Customs has caused to Megaupload users not accused of wrongdoing. 

The customer is Kyle Goodwin, who was using Megupload as a cloud backup for videos in his business reporting on sporting events in Ohio.  Goodwin’s own drive then crashed, and he lost all his data.
One could say, he should have placed his data with another Cloud provider, and made multiple hardrive backups, the way the Geek Squad usually will.

But one obvious problem is that when a customer uses a data storage or web hosting service, even if paid for by a normal hosting contract, the customer could lose all his backup data if the service is seized by government because of wrongdoing (particularly related to piracy, copyright, counterfeited goods) by other customers. 

This seems to be the case with Megaupload.  I wonder if this could happen with other “regular” providers who provide normally contracted service for a monthly or annual fee.  The danger might be greater for shared hosting than dedicated server hosting.   It’s interesting because may Internet experts recommend “paying” for space  rather than using “free” services that give no rights of redress.

It isn’t immediately apparent from media stories whether Goodwin “paid” for storage n(in a sense making the space “his” at least under some kind of tenancy) or used a free service.

Megaupload is rated yellow (“suspicious”) by McAfee site-advisor.

The US DOJ says that users’ files were never “seized”; they were taken offline so they could be “forensically imaged”.  Presumably, any user is potentially at risk until proven innocent.  Ars Technica has a story here

Tech-dirt has some details on the legal subtleties here

Wikipedia has a history of Megaupload here.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation story is here.

There is a lesson. When you use any service in conjunction with your own personal or small business plans, think through your disaster recovery issues and also outage or inaccessibility problems, that can be caused by natural disaster or by other people's crimes or negligence.  Otherwise you can lose everything, for good.  Blame won't get you anywhere. 

Turning this argument around, you see that customer service -- from others -- really matters to small business.  See my "Issue blog" posting Oct. 24. 

See also earlier story April 1, 2012, this blog.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Can Spotify answer the problem of music piracy? Do people buy more on pinboards than in social media?

Time Magazine, on p. 39, Oct. 15, has a brief story  (“A different way to pay for music) about the company Spotify (link) of Daniel Elk, which offers consumers unlimited  legal downloads of songs for $9.99 a month, for free with ads.  So far, four major record labels have “signed on” to the marketing concept, as a constructive alternative to piracy.

Here’s a video by SquareSpace on Spotify:

On p. 42 there is a brief story about Ben Silbermann’s “Pinterest” (link), an online pinboard of “things you love” or want, rather on “things you do” (especially, I used to think, in the dorm).

The story suggests that the pinboard results in a higher percentage of outright product sales than does Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and similar social networking and blogging platforms. (From what I recall ten years ago, Linkshare, which could be put on any ordinary website, was predicated on product sales. I don’t know if it still is.  I earned a total of $6.99 in 2002 from it, as one of my sources of replacement income after my layoff!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Popularity in high school can predict future success; then what about the nerds like Zuckerberg?

There’s an interesting story in the Huffington Post, that kids who were the most popular in high school actually do make more money later in life. Apparently this was a finding if the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, story link here 

There’s also an interesting column about why nerds are often unpopular. Paul Graham has a column, back to 2003, about the idea that nerds often want to be smart but not be popular; they want to create great things.  This can work in the adult world, particularly if you’re inventing the next Facebook.  But often in high school it can attract outright hostility, because popularity is often a matter of demonstrating your superiority to others in a social hierarchy,  Graham’s link is here.

I think some of this is left over from tribal societies of the past (or in some parts of the world now).  Societies need social structure and some degree of conformity and obedience to survive as a group.  Those who are “different” can be seen as a long term existential threat.   In a “real world” that goes global and becomes pluralistic, difference can be leveraged back into advantage.  I’ll get back to this again soon.

Graham’s take certain bears on the bullying problems.  I experienced a lot more problem in earlier grades; despite the fact that I was a nerd, I simply found my own peer group in tenth grade and we were pretty much left alone.

Today, I noticed a billboard Metro sign for a casino in West Virginia, and was reminded of the fact that many of the television ads against the proposition to allow more casino development has  been funded by the company (Hollywood) with the big casino 80 miles from DC in West Virginia.  Policy arguments aren’t made on the basis of truth; they are based on favoring established interests who have the money to twist the truth in well broadcast media messages.  That doesn’t sound like a good way to get to the bottom of policy questions.  (We still see some anti-libertarian papers expressing concerns about gambling addiction, as in Petula Dvorak's story in the Washington Post Oct. 15, here.) On the other hand, existing interests do give people “real jobs” and are already proving stable income to those with commitments, families to support.  As I wrote about a week ago, it’s very difficult for someone in my position to work in any partisan way at all. 

Below: Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Mt. Mitchell, NC, where I traveled Oct. 1991. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Law student in Vienna chases Facebook for keeping so much "personal data"

A 25-year-old law student from Austria, Max Schrems, is trying to raise money to sue Facebook in Europe, after he got Facebook to cough up the 1200-plus pages of information it had kept on him, according to a Washington Post story Saturday morning by Craig Timberg, link here

The story could be studied in conjunction with reports that the European Union is pressuring Google about the way its new combined privacy policy (implemented in March 2012) works (on my International issues blog, Oct. 16).  

European law is more protective of privacy than American law.  Schrems is reported as saying he is surprised American homes don’t use privacy hedges the way homes in Germany and Austria do.  (Hedges are considered a security threat here, hiding possible intruders.)

I’ve wondered what Facebook’s file on me would look like.  Since I’ve allowed my Twitter feeds to run on Facebook, those (maybe all 1570 of them) would be included.  Maybe even some retweets and answers.  Of course, some pictures (with data, although geolocation in my cameras are turned off) and videos.
But I don’t post online for restricted audiences – except in personal emails, or in occasional emails sent to listservers (GLIL, and I used to use the LPMN, Libertarian Party of Minnesota).  Oh, yes, I’ve made postings on Independent Gay Forum (not active with boards since about 2001), Project Greenlight (Miramax Pictures, not active since 2004), and, back in the 1990s, a lot of AOL discussion boards (especially one about “don’t ask don’t tell”).  Generally, emails sent to listservers, while technically public, are not likely to be widely seen outside of the list; and that comment tended to be true of forums in the past (before social media that we know today came into being).  However, I know (from “forensics”) that others who have not been “friended” who have not signed on as “followers” do see my Facebook posts and tweets, and of course I do have fully public audience for my blogs, books, and older flat sites.   My point here is that anything I post on Facebook or Twitter is intended to be seen by the whole public.  If something is personal enough to need restriction, I don’t post it anywhere.  (Essentially, Facebook and Twitter are supplementary microblogging platforms in my practice.)  I keep it on paper or on private files on my hard drive (which could be hacked, but not likely).  And I don’t even open  (spam) emails or attachments that I have reasonable suspicion of being “illegal”. 

Yes, the photo of Schrems makes him look “attractive”.  His Facebook group appears to be closed. 

Again, the public (and politicians) on both sides of the Pond need to appreciate the tradeoffs between privacy, openness, and free and user-generated content.  Companies can’t provide these platforms without advertising revenue to pay for them. Remember how we used to hate commercials on “free” broadcast TV?

Here's a little more "personal history": picture of the Biltmore Estate, NC, from 1991 visit, before my entry (not a return) to "public life".  (Wikipedia attribution link). 

Friday, October 19, 2012

College admissions officers do look at students' online behavior, report that students get hurt by their online reputations

A college newspaper, the Hoya, for Georgetown University in Washington DC, in an article Oct. 16 by Ted Murphy, reports that now (according to Kaplan Test Prep) 27% of admissions officers say they look at an applicant’s Facebook and other social media or online behavior (such as Google or Bing searches) before making decisions on admission.  What is disturbing is that more of them admit to reporting getting adverse impressions from applicants’ social media.

Again, I’ve been concerned that social media can become a tool for promoting social conformity.

And some admissions officers might identify the wrong people, or believe misleading information posted or tagged by others. 
It’s not clear what happens with a student who has little or no social media presence.  Even today, some teens or high school students (as in church congregations) tell me that they see no point in accumulating “friends” online and giving others the power to “reject” them.  Some say they would just rather operate in the “real world” in making friends, and feel that the pressure online is distracting.

On the other hand, attractive or gregarious students at large campuses often accumulate hundreds of Facebook friends, even while keeping most of their profiles visible only to friends. 

The Hoya story is here.

Pictures: today’s train ride, near Romney, W Va.  Some people who live near this Potomac Eagle line seem to live unplugged, off the grid.    

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Once an amateur journalist, there's no turning back

In the 1990s, I entered the debate on gays in the military by writing my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book.  My original driving concept had been a certain parallel between the circumstances in college dorms in the early 1960s when I had been “expelled” from William and Mary, and the facile “privacy” issue about forced intimacy in military barracks.  This quickly got to be elaborated to exploring the “unit cohesion”  issue and seeing how it parallels the tension over hyper-individualism in larger society. The military gay ban (and 17-year “don’t ask don’t tell” policy) seemed like the rocky core of a “gas giant” of concentric issues concerning how the “different” individual should (or can) fit into and contribute to larger society.
I had originally expected my (ultimately) self-published book to get around by “word of mouth” and indeed it did (especially at first, after I had moved to Minneapolis and got on television). But I soon found that web publishing, because of free (and effortless) search engine indexing was an unexpectedly efficient (and ultimately controversial) way to be found in the old Web 1.0 world.
So over time I built up a large body of material on my websites and (after 2006) blogs that played “devil’s advocate” with just about everyone’s position on everything.  My value was simply being there and a certain stability that I wasn’t going away.  Over the years, I had a great record for up-time.  (Even with “VirtualNetspace”, owned by a coworker, I had only about three down days in my first four years).   
I think that my staying in the “publicity” game so long, so that I would be found by hundreds of thousands of visitors, was a significant factor in the eventual repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 2011.  Had I not been there all these years, it just might not have happened.  One person can make that much difference, if he “does the work”.  And therein – in “asymmetry” --  lies a controversy. 
Again, my total focus was on “intellectual honesty”.  I would not give in on a point so that one party on an issue that needs help can meet its needs.  In my world, there are no “victims”; there is only success or failure, and hard fact.  There is personal responsibility.
And then, sometimes there isn’t.  Some people start ahead in line and don’t realize it, no matter how much “responsibility” they show.  A society that says it values human life for its own sake must expect compassion from everyone.
All of this plays out in complicated, unusual ways among people who are “different” – that is, people with unusual  (expressive) gifts or talents, but sometimes with certain social impediments in doing the things normally “expected of everybody”.  Exploring this problem – what should people who are different expect and what should be expected of “them” – became my goal.
I could not make people money doing this.  I had gone down a path of no return.  Perhaps, as it turned out (as my estate settled after mother passed away at the end of 2010) I could afford to.  And perhaps I could “get away with it” because I came into the self-publishing world relatively late – at age 54, when, given the times of my career, I could anticipate early “retirement” anyway and start a second career – on my terms, in my own ballpark with me setting the distances to the outfield fences.
So I was now in a position where I could never, for the rest of my life, work for or join some other party’s “partisan” (that is, biased) interest.  I couldn’t “raise money” for anyone or knock on doors.  By instantiating myself (with my own “constructor”) as an amateur journalist, I had taken a moral lifetime pledge of “objectivity”.
In the employment area, this could present serious practical problems.  The best arrangement would be to find an I.T. contract where I would remain an “individual contributor”.  But I now posed a practical risk: I could be going to work for a place in order to “report” on it in a self-published mode (aka, “spy” on it, the so-called “Food Lion Problem” that ABC experienced in the 1990s.)
I did get approached to peddle things.  I have a feeling that some people who found my materials online decided to see if they could divert me.  Maybe I really was a “threat”.
For example, I was contacted by both New York Life and Humana to become a life insurance agent.  I actually went through a few steps of the interview process at NYL out at Tyson’s Corner in 2005.  I was attractive because I had twelve years of life insurance experience in the information technology area.  So isn’t it logical I ought to be able to sell it?  One of the questions the screening questionnaire probes is how you feel about buying anything from a salesman.  Interesting!  If you get hired, you need a “fast start” and an early exercise is generating 200 leads.  In fact, I still get email leads today from that adventure!
Seriously, though, could I warm up to going into somebody’s home an putting on an act that I can show someone how to take care of his family when I didn’t have one myself?  Get the drift?
Another approach was from HR Block, to become a tax preparer.  This interchange went on in 2008, during the crisis. You take some classes and take the test for a license.  Then you can start at $8 am hour.  I felt that I just didn’t have time for this.
Another time I got an unsolicited call (late on a Friday afternoon, in Feb. 2007) about managing teams of teens raising money for charities by trolling shopping malls.  I was to be their mentor.  Unbelievable.
The best chance might have come from becoming a teacher, which I have covered before extensively. I thought for a while I could wing this – become a calculus teacher (I actually had found that getting back up to speed on the math wasn’t too hard, and passing Praxis wouldn’t be a problem), and somehow thread through the risks of my online exposure (pre-Facebook, but just barely, based on the Web 1.0 world, which was not really aware yet of the dangers).   The demand, it seemed, though, was in the other direction, particularly in the special education and low income areas.  And you need real “fathering” skills to handle kids like this, and I had never been a father.

But in all of these “opportunities”, I would have had to remove all of my self-published “research”, and expropriated my own online presence (eventually in modern social media) for “professional” purposes which were, by definition, somewhat “partisan”.  So after mid 2007, I have done nothing else but “publish”.
Yes, I am sometimes uncomfortable about my “know it all” status, although I didn’t see it this way when I got in originally.
What I need to finish now is several initiatives, in which I need to get good at several things, including music composition software (Sibelius), video editing (Final Cut), fiction (the novel concept), screenwriting (toward a film proposal), and non-fiction political and social material (my current books and blogs).  I cannot simply select one item and “sell it” and make somebody easy money. It all has to be part of an integrated effort.  (So calls to me about how to sell a 15-year-old book do fall on deaf ears.) 
And to pull this off, I need to stay focused and eliminate disruptions.  I need to keep an infrastructure secure and running (and I do depend on customer service from power, cable and wireless companies). 
Of course, published expression (whether movies, books, or music) isn’t worth anything without an audience or customers, so at some level it must “help people”.  So a natural question comes up, why don’t I enjoy “helping people” for their own sake more than I do?
For one thing, if I’m using my own skills and doing something I believe it was my “destiny” to achieve, I don’t find myself pondering what I think of the person getting “help”.  The whole issue of “upward affiliation” stays on my own back Bunsen burner. “Argo”, if I help direct a chess tournament in the inner city for underprivileged kids (I did this once in 2006), I ought to be good at playing tournament chess myself; in that sense, I would feel like a good (“fatherly”) role model.  If the volunteerism has something to do with music, I ought to be getting somewhere with my own music (some manuscripts exist from the time I was 13).  I don’t see that if I just volunteer under someone else’s agenda and “pay my dues” that I am achieving much, and I am likely to feel critical of the “recipients”, although I understand that simple volunteerism does help build social capital to meet future calamities.
I do see that I could make a contribution to the media world (CNN, AC360, Huffington, Rock Center – I actually worked for NBC in IT once --, 20-20, or perhaps, especially, Wikipedia) but to sell myself, I would have to get all the diverse pieces of my own effort now done first!  I can’t just sell one piece very easily by itself.
There are dangers out there for me, because the world of user-generated content, upon which I predicated my whole life after about 1997, is predicated on certain business models that necessarily pose certain risks to the public.  Even though I don’t think I abuse anything myself, I take advantage of a system in which it is very hard to prevent piracy, cyberbullying, identity theft, reputational assault, and the like.
There’s even another wrinkle to this that no one has noticed:  speaker accountability, which goes in hand with anonymity issues.  I work solo.  If something happens to me (death, or, for example, a long hospitalization), there’s no one else who can answer a “complaint”.  As I think about this, I’m surprised that service providers and ISP’s and shared hosting services don’t have more specific requirements in this area.  (I see an earlier posting on this issue July 3, 2012). 
I am indeed socially isolated.  If I were to experience a serious medical challenge, I might not be game for extensive treatment and lifestyle challenges that normally require, as Dr. Oz once said, “that you love someone and he or she loves you back”, regardless of helplessness or desecration.  Or if some calamity or Maoist "purification" happened that made technology unusable (like EMP, or the show “Revolution”), I don’t think the world would have much use for someone like me. 
When I was growing up, I picked up an impression that people’s capabilities had moral explanations.  You lived a certain lifespan, but you didn’t expect extraordinary efforts at the end.  The world was a dangerous place, and family members had to watch each other’s backs.  At the same time, there was a certain “Darwinian” (or “Spencerian”) outlook. People of less ability (or who worked less hard) became beholden to the control of others if they lived at all.  They might wind up as cannon fodder (as was the case with the Vietnam era draft and student deferments).  A world like that didn’t create a lot of empathy with the poor or disadvantaged.
Yet, in the past years, after I made myself public, I found myself being approached, to make someone else in whom I never had a “stake” all right. It was a strange twist in a world that before had expected people to mind their own business and that didn’t want “people like me” responsible for their kids.  And I found the approaches unwelcome.  Unless I was using my own talents (and I admit there could have been some situations where I could have tried harder to do so), I would just be making some thing or someone “all right” when I didn’t believe that I should do so. After all, I had never entered the world of courtship, marriage, and parentage. Why?  Partly it was because I had grown up thinking I wasn’t physically competitive enough to “deserve” children.  I had bought into the artificial meritocracy of my surroundings, and then found that (with technology) I could come to terms with it, by observing it at a distance, by kibitzing, and (as in general relativity) by affecting what I observed, ironically confirming a system that at one time would have judged me a physical coward. No wonder I could generate resentment, or at least indignation.
I could see what this was all about, the idea that everyone should be able to develop interest in others based partly on real need, not just on fantasy. 

First picture, Wikipedia attribution link (my last visit, Grandfather Mountain, NC, 1994). Other picture, Mt. Roger, VA (2005).

Monday, October 15, 2012

With so much pressure to go online, "the kids are not all right"

Newsweek, Oct. 15, 2012, has an interesting story by Lee Siegel,  “The Kids Aren’t Alright: The perils of parenting in a digital age”.  I grate when I don’t see “all right” spelt the way I was taught in grade school!. The Daily Beast has a copy of the article here

All of this discussion comes forth as Facebook announces it has one billion users, and Mark Zuckerberg becomes president of the world (in the eyes of extraterrestrials, at least).  And Facebook talks about formally allowing users under 13 onto its site. It’s pretty hard to stop them now, unless you’re Michelle Obama or have her skills as a mother.

The biggest concern might not be online predators (COPA blog, Oct. 12) or even direct cyberbullying, or even the “online reputation” issue where people lose jobs or at least job opportunities because of what they posted online as teens (or even what people posted about them).

The biggest problem seems to be that kids are virtually “forced” to become “socialized” online before they learn to deal with people in the real world.

When I was in high school (1958-1961) my social life seemed low key to many (I did not go to the Prom), but I valued the people I ran around with, and not a single one ever got into trouble or disappointed me.  My hypercritical attitude about people and tendency to measure them based on what I could “see” would later become a sore point in therapy, as I have discussed before.  But in our environment, you could run around with those you wanted to and could ignore the physical bullies, who had no power.

My own attitude toward people ("upward affiliation") became seen as a moral issue itself. Today, we might see dependency of some people (like me)for existential purpose on a medium that invites abuse by others (particularly of minors) in such a collective way, as a moral issue.  That's one reason why Section 230 might be in trouble. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

GWU law professor discusses growing limits on free speech; speakers are held responsible for reactions of others

The Western world, including the United States, is placing less value on free speech than in the past, and is willing to limit it for purposes of public harmony, according to Jonathan Turley, public interest law professor at the George Washington University.

The article (in the Washington Post Oct. 14) is titled “Shut up and play nice: how the Western world is limiting free speech”, link here

The main areas that Turley addresses are that speech can be (1) blasphemous, (2) hateful, (3) discriminatory, and (4) deceitful.

The most conspicuous recent example would come from proposals to censor or limit speech (some of which were put into place in some countries) that offends the religious sensibilities of some people.  There seems to be an idea that speakers have some moral accountability for inciting violent activity among people not living in democratic cultures.

But that goes along with ideas that it is more important to “fit in” and to learn reciprocity in “watching other people’s backs” that to tell the truth.  It’s important to become a social person and take responsibility for other people.

In the “hateful” category, Turley discusses Canadian law and the idea that speech is banned not only on its objective content but on the reactions of others.  A related problem would be “implicit content”, where speech is judged on the supposed intentions of the speaker.

In the discrimination section, Turley provides an example of a Canadian comedian accused of inflicting emotional distress on a lesbian couple, but the same idea, with irony, affects religious speech.

In the “deceitful” section, Turley talks about the “Stolen Valor” problem.

See also my reviews of GW Professor Daniel Solove's books (look for label "Solove") on Books blog. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Was Lieberman's proposal to gut Section 230 just an April Fool's joke? Will it come back? It's a "clown question"

Here’s more on danger to Section 230.  It’s been around quite a while.
Apparent, there was an “April Fools” joke last spring that Senator Joe Lieberman was preparing to introduce a bill to kill Section 230.  Here’s the “April Fool” (now October Surprise) postiing by “Patterico’s Pontifications” , on April 2, 2012, link 

A site called “McIntyre v. Ohio” had  posted a story way back on April 1, 2012, “Section 230 Revision Will Likely Impact Anonymous Internet Speech”, link here

The story then was an underground rumor that Lieberman would revise Section 230 as follows:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the speaker or publisher of any information provided by another information content provider.”

The story says that Lieberman wants this wording:

“A provider or user of an interactive computer service may be treated as the speaker or publisher of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Lieberman had said he is motivated by national security, to prevent a group like the Taliban (really notorious again in recent days – see the International Issues blog) from using a service like Blogger or Wordpress.  This sounds a bit like “know your customers” proposals for banking that were common after 9/11, and often a subject of criticism in libertarian circles.

The Ohio story mentions the case Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy case in 1995, in which the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Prodigy (remember that old, “clown question” service?) could be held liable for libel by its users if it even used minor editorial control of content.  That modified an earlier case Cubby v. CompuServ, where the service provider had been shielded. Wikipedia’s article on the Oakmont case is here

Here’s another account from the “Legal Satyricon” Wordpress blog, link

But of course stripping Section 230 protection wouldn’t just apply when the speakers were anonymous. It would make Google responsible for what I say in this blog.  Under such cases, it doesn’t sound like Google could afford to take the risk of letting speakers like me continue.  Maybe it could pre-clear speakers.  Maybe it would allow speakers who generate enough money (I don’t) and turn online publishing back into a numbers’ game (like on the ABC show “Nashville”, about country music). Of course, the recent controversy over “do not track” invokes those possible concerns. 

By the way, “McIntyre v. Ohio” (1995) is a Supreme Court case that held that on Ohio law that prohibited anonymous campaign literature was unconstitutional.  It’s not surprising that the case could lead to focus on the issue of “anonymity” and Section 230.  EFF has long held that anonymity is protected as part of a First Amendment fundamental right.  The Wikipedia link on the Ohio case is here

That case does foreshadow the controversy over bloggers and campaign finance reform that would emerge around 2002, and connect to a bizarre incident when I was substitute teaching, that would occur exactly seven years ago today (see July 27, 2007).

So will Section 230 come up again soon?  It’s a bit surprising that it wasn’t tossed around more as a target during the SOPA debate last winter (because the underlying issue is the same as with DMCA Safe Harbor: service providers can’t afford to allow uncleared user-generated content if they can be held responsible for it prospectively.  Then it gets down to a basic philosophical debate.

I do have the impression that Romney-Ryan may be a tad more responsive to First Amendment concerns than the current administration, even though Obama is much better on equal rights for gays.  Conservatives have been mentioning the First Amendment more often than liberals these days, as particularly the way the GOP shot down Obama’s immediate reaction to the terrorist events in Libya and Egypt as the reaction to a rogue, self-published and admittedly inflammatory video.   Even as to self-interest, I’m really in a quandary.  I don’t know who is better for “me”.  Probably Romney, even if I hate to admit it.  Most of my life, I’ve been “conservative” and my parents liked Ike. 
To change the subject, yes, I saw the Washington Nationals melt down with two outs in the top of the Ninth last night.  St. Louis does this all the time.  (When I was in graduate school in the 1960s, other students at KU worshipped the Cardinals then, too.)  It seems that the Nats blew more leads at home this year  (especially big leads) than on the road (as I recall, they lost only one road game where they led going into the bottom of the ninth).   (Visiting teams tend to do well in MLB  elimination games, if anyone notices; teams feel looser on the road.) They have a winter to recover, and need it.  I remember a horrible game in Boston in June, 1961 when the “new Senators” (as called then, an expansion team) blew a 12-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth in Boston with two outs and a man on first.  I watched it from a church picnic halfway to Baltimore.  That ruined the season for the Senators that year, as they would go 31-68 from the point (they were 30-32 going into that game.)  I even remember a couple of last-weekend victories on my roommate’s “clock radio” from my dorm room at William and Mary, as the meltdown that would determine the course of my life was just starting.  Baseball does bring back memories. 

I am wondering how Bryce Harper will reconcile baseball with the Mormon expectation that young men give two years of their lives to a mission.  I've talked about the mission issue on my TV blog in connection with shows about Romney.  

No more jokes right now, and no more clown questions, please. 

First picture: A family trip to Hocking Hills, Ohio, early 1950s;  second picture, Kipton, Ohio (my summers as a boy); third picture, "pinball stadium" myself and other kids made in Ohio in the 1950s for fantasy baseball (the Indians were good then.)