Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Federal government can search "cloudy" communications more than six months old without warranrt

The Washington Post recently has argued that Congress should extend the normal “Fourth Amendment” protections to emails more than 180 days old and stored on servers.  The applicable law is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, with wiki explanation (web url) here

The law considers email more than six months old to be “abandoned” and not “worthy” of needing the protection of normal procedures requiring court-ordered search warrants.  The same concept would appear to apply to tweets, Facebook or blog comments or other correspondence, where it could matter if the blogs or profiles were under privacy-controlled access, follower or friending lists. 

Some mail services, like AOL, leave unread emails available much longer than they used to. I find it rather clumsy to get rid of them!

Do I have old emails that I regret?  Not that much.  This sort of thing could happen in the workplace, though.  I can remember some unpleasntries sent to me in the distant past.  They were rare.  But if they happen, you can have a "roach" problem. 
The link for the Washington Post Jan. 28 editorial is here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Co-founder of "Ratingz" explains importance of Section 230, downstream liability immunity

Electronic Frontier Foundation has just (Jan. 28, 2013) added another report to its “CDA230 Success Cates”, that is, “The Ratingz Network” (website url link), with cofounder John Swapceinski, link here.
CDA230 refers to Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which had also comprised the Communications Decency Act (CDA), the censorship provisions of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in June 1997 (I actually heard some of the oral arguments in March), while the downstream liability exemptions for libel for service providers remained intact.

Swapceinski reports constant harassment by lawyers, many of whom make facetious claims or seem to be trying to bully the providers, thinking that a service provider doesn’t know about the law. 
He says that his business couldn’t last a month without Section 230.

Some people argue that service providers have deep pockets (not always) and that there is a tradeoff between spontaneity of user-generated content, and protection of businesses from malicious posters or even of children from cyberbullying.  Over time, calls to weaken Section 230 protections could become as problematic as SOPA was. (See Youtube video on Oct. 11, 2012 posting.  YouTube also has a disturbing post about “Hunter Moore”.)  

Removal of downstream liability immunity would also affect blogging platforms (like this one), YouTube, and even ordinary shared web hosting. 

One possible measure would be that users might have to indemnify providers against downstream liability personally.  Book publishers already do that, and some web hosting service do that, although the contract clauses are rarely invoked in practice.  But in a future scenario, people could have to make deposits, which could lead to a scenario where only rich people speak.  And we might not have an Aaron Swartz around to stop it.

Another way this could play out could be mandatory individual liability insurance.  Voluntary insurance for bloggers was offered by the Media Bloggers Association in the fall of 2008, but I’m not sure it got anywhere.  I covered this issue then.

Asjley Hurst discusses “Intermediate Liability on the Internet” for the Stanford CIS (Center for Internet and Society) here.

It’s a full hour to watch it.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Conformity is like an "alternative minimum tax"

On January 15, I wrote about my sense of living with an “alternative moral universe” (a sort of moral “alternative minimum tax”)

Let me approach this by referring to some famous people, and looking at their “moral” reputations. 
First, consider the history of cyclist Lance Armstrong.  Despite his notoriety right now, most people would say he started out in life with the right “purposes”.  He entered professional cycling in his early 20s, and fought back and beat testicular cancer.  He founded a charity for cancer patients.  He married and had children.  He was socially fluent.  He seemed real.  And then, the doping scandal developed and he fell.

It’s true that federal law is involved, but it’s also reasonable to suggest that professional sports associations are somewhat free to define their own rules as to substance use.  But all major professional sports (MLB, NFL, etc) ban “performance enhancement” and believe that sports competition should be based on “natural” human capacity.  So what Lance did does fit what Princeton Professor David Callahan talked about in his 2004 book “The Cheating Culture”.   It got worse, as Lance bullied and sued whistleblowers, until his house of cards collapsed, leading to the Oprah interviews.
Yet, everything Lance started out with fits what mainstream American culture admires.  It involved proving you could compete in a “real world” and then use that capability to take care of other people.  Men are supposed to do that.  It also included fighting back from humiliating adversity (cancer – we don’t know if drugs could have contributed to it) and charity.  Eventually, Lance “owned” all these objectives as “his”. On his own admission, he became obsessed with “controlling outcomes”.  What had started out as intended to help others became “his world”, to be preserved at all costs.  It was winner take all. 
Callahan, in his book (Book reviews blog, March 28, 2006), explains how this so often happens. 
One can compare the psychological issues in cycling with those in team sports, perhaps.  Football use to be a social necessity and rite of passage for many boys, because it teaches temporary self-sacrifice (maybe like temporary pawn sacrifices in chess games) for the good of a team.  Football has become more problematic as more medical evidence accumulates regarding the dangers of concussions.  Cycling and swimming sounded like among the most healthful of sports. They brought a bit of aesthetic realism with them, as men were expected to shave their bodies down for the most miniscule competitive advantages – did their women care?  Athletes called the experience “peaking”.  It kept life at a certain level of “reality”.   But, then we saw where it could go very wrong.
Is a person who does bad things to accomplish “original” good a bad person?  Maybe that’s an empty question, except that it lives at the center of modern notions of personal responsibility, trustworthiness, and fair play.
It’s interesting to make the comparison with the careers or biographies of Internet entrepreneurs or activists.  Very often people in this culture are more interested in their own ideas and in promulgating or implementing them than they are in direct responsibility for other people, especially early in adulthood.  They believe they are “helping people” by giving (or protecting) the tools for people to express or otherwise help themselves online, but they do not like to be placed into social structures were they are expected to be held accountable for specific people or to follow expected paths of gender and complementarity. 

I experienced this possibility with music and later writing. But in my generation I did not have the same opportunity to “get really good” at things that teens would have a couple generations later.  (I’ve you’re going to be an Internet prodigy today, you have to be able to live “programming” in your sleep by about the time you’re 14, I think.) 

In earlier generations there lived a much more socially determined set of moral values, particularly as to purpose.  One did not seek the limelight for his own expressions until it was clear he could take care of other people and was capable of having a stake in others.  To do otherwise was to seek a morally unsupportable purpose, even if one did not harm others and wasn’t deceitful in one’s dealings with others. 

The tragedy of Aaron Swartz may fall into this area.  It seems as though he was concerned particularly about his own ideas as to how content should be made available to people and he sincerely believed this would help them generically.  But he wanted to follow his own compass first.  Like many of us, he found that establishment leadership, so entrusted with social and economic stability, could become corrupt, and do wrong things after it had internalized the bureaucratic purposes given to it by others as its own.  This isn’t the place to examine the technicalities of the DOJ’s prosecution of him for the way he “stole” research papers from a university server, but the action seems facetious and driven by obsolete models about how information flow works and is monetized.   His actions seemed to harm or deceive no one.

I wanted to do my own thing, live into my own world and then promulgate it.  I found others resisted my apparent intention or “purpose” to do so.  They wanted me to develop the gender-related skills to protect others and take on actual responsibility for others in some personal sense before being heard from.  Theirs was a value system that said that all life was essentially  “locally” social and needed to remain so for families to sustain themselves.   My academic “superiority” and music and other talents would generate resentment from others if I didn’t take my turn in sharing risks, uncertainties, and even some unwelcome personal intimacies.  That indeed was how it was in Army Basic, when I was called “algebra” and “professor” but yet a “stupid man” when I had to be “in touch” with the practical (and survival) realities of the moment.  The model, that everyone  initially (before claiming adult autonomy) submits somewhat to the direction and “larger purpose” of the group (and to loving the people in the group “seen just as people”), seemed to give “marriage” a responsibility that could sustain it when otherwise it probably couldn’t indefinitely  serve narrower self and ego-driven adult interests.  Therefore, others mistrusted the apparent endpoints of my motives and interfered, even if I never did anything “wrong”.  They really thought they needed and had a claim on my loyalty, to survive external hardships as a group, to provide some stability to those even more "unbalanced" than me, to know they had some kind of biological future come what may.

I recall, from outplacement sessions after my 2001 layoff, the Myers-Briggs ”personality types” . I don’t recall the color codes, but I do recall that some people are very good at doing the wrong thing.  One could add, doing the wrong thing for ultimately the right reason.  Others could to the right thing, but for internal (high level) motives that others mistrust, and ultimately become inefficient or ineffective in doing so.  

Understand, it's now an asymmetric world.  "Little people" can, on their own, have much more influence for either good or for bad, by skipping the "purpose-driven" socialization process that used to be almost mandatory.  "Big People", on the other hand, despite some spectacular "clay feet" amputations, generally matter less than they once did.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

France (other countries) try to challenge anonymity of US speakers (Twitter case)

Twitter’s commitment to protect the identity of users is being test by a French court, that has demanded to know who posted anti-Semitic tweets.  Twitter maintains it will only disclose information about users on orders from an American court, and it says it can stand by this policy because it does not have employees or store data on any servers in France.  The speakers could well not be in France (be in the US).  Google and Facebook do apparently have servers in France and various other countries. 
The New York Times story by Eric Pfanner and Somini Sengupta is (website url) here

Twitter has removed some objectionable content from availability in France.  The capability of “blogging” and social networking platforms to remove content objectionable in specific countries (such as the recent spate over “Innocence of Muslims”) does tend to raise another question: are service providing companies more capable of screening content for other objections (copyright, libel) than they say they are (the DMCA and Section 230 issues)?  For example, YouTube has considerable automated filtering for some kinds of piracy. 

Companies in the US say they get many requests from the US government to reveal identities.
Facebook’s policy of requiring “real names” (usually) would seem to guarantee that identities are known.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

P2P users buy more music legally than non-users; more on "being noticed", volunteerism

Let me first note an economics blog from a Stonybrook economics professor , Noah Smith.  The blog is called “Noah Opinion” and offers the caption, “Those who can write have a lot to learn from those bright enough not to”, link here.  I think you could make up another aphorism, “Those who write a lot can learn from those who choose not to.”  That evokes the mid 2000’s idea, “The privilege of being listened to”, or maybe even, “Free speech is a right, being listened to is a privilege.”  And the free speech itself might be a fundamental right, but the cost-free or barrier-free distribution should not be taken for granted forever.   People will probably challenge Section 230 and downstream liability immunity again. Is it back to volunteering in someone else's bureaucracy?

Here’s something else interesting on Ars Technica  ("Law and Disroder; Civilization and Discontents") by Timothy B. Lee  (that is, “Timocracy II”).  It’s “New music survey: P2P users buy the most: No one wants disconnection penalties”, link here

Tim notes a new survey from the American Assembly at Columbia, funded in part by Google, link here with a wonderful alert feline picture.  It’s called “Copy culture in the U.S. in Germany”.  The survey notes that P2P users buy about 30% more music than those who don’t use it.  I don’t use P2P, but I do almost all my online buying from Amazon. 

Younger Americans feel it is OK to share copyrighted content with family members and closely held friends, because this was common with books in past generations.  A few feel it is OK to sell pirated content.  I’m surprised that there would be any resistance to linking to copyrighted content.
No one approves of the “six strikes” or Internet connection blacklist systems.  One surprising find is that a small majority of Americans feel that search engines should block pirated content – but that brings back the world of the SOPA legislation.

Another interesting feature is that in Germany more cable TV is free (and on the public dime) and people don’t have to pay to get music as often.  

Note: "Timocracy III" would refer to (former) Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.  But we dodged the bullet on the debt ceiling this time, I think.  

One other thing -- not enough for a separate post: I wanted to follow up on the most recent post about Sandy, with this NBC report (previous coverage was on Dec. 26, 2012).  I'm surprised that these buildings aren't torn down and replaced by manufactured housing, but maybe that lets a lot of "us" off the hook eventually:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Note: In posting title, the word is "more", not the typo "moire" (no old English, please).  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Disappearing: that takes the "online reputation" problem to a new level. What happens if you suddenly need a "low profile"?

Kyle Dowling has an interesting article on p. 29 of the January/February print version of Psychology Today Jan-Feb. 2013 issue.  The title is “The Master of Hide and Seek:  Privacy expert Frank Ahearn helps people bury the skeletons in their closet – and start life anew”.

I couldn’t find the article online yet (it might live behind a subscription paywall), but there is a story about Ahearn in the New York Daily News, “Need to disappear?”, link here

Ahearn has his own account of his work here.  He used to do skip-tracing, which debt collectors and other private investigators use. 
The issue is not getting a new identity or witness protection. As Ahearn points out, only the federal government can handle that.  But he does handle situations of people who feel they could be stalked or targeted for some reason.  It’s obviously a sensitive subject.
Maybe ten years ago, before social media as we know it today got developed, I would imagined that employers could demand that associates hired into sensitive positions erase their digital lives.  That could be because of wealth, notoriety, or some sort of clandestine employment.  (It’s fair to say, here, that I know from other people, that CIA, Homeland Security, and similar employees can have social media accounts and speak about matters other than their own jobs or classified matters, at least in most cases).   Social media has changed the way online lives are viewed, inasmuch there is more focus on directing content to specified lists of recipients than with Web 1.0 style “broadcast” publishing.

In the PT article, Ahearn describes not just removal of material from the Internet, but also creating an Argo-style “fake presence” based on your identity.  This is not the same thing as “identity theft”.  It is just a way of hiding true (but normally non germane) material that could cause personal security or reputation problems. It is not a service that (hopefully) a lot of people would need.

There are obviously ways to remove material from the Internet (starting with accounts), the Internet Archive,  and to remove url’s from search engines, and there are industry-established ways to “start over” or deal with hacks. 

All of this, it seems to me, very much overlaps the field of “online reputation” (as Michael Fertik would see it) and also has to do with throwing collectors of information for data banks off track. 

Art Motion Picture has a short film by Ahearn and Verve Media, “Mister Proof: How to Disappear,” direxted by Giuseppe Malpasso. 

Note the tools like Guerilla Mail and Spoof Card.
I’m not “manipulative enough” to want to do the things in this film. And, unless I was a CIA field agent running a station house, I would hate to be in a position where others (like family) expect me to keep a “low profile” because my existence is distracting or dangerous. 

Picture: Yes, you could move to another planet in another solar system! But what if you found Facebook there?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NLRB rules that employers must be very careful with (personal) social media and blogging policies

I have long been concerned about the idea of “conflict of interest” between Internet speech and the workplace, and since about 2006 many workplace counselors have advised people about watching how their social media activity can affect their “online reputation” and employment prospects.

But Steven Greenhouse has a front page story in the New York Times today (Tuesday, January 22, 2013), “Even if it enrages your boss, social net speech is protected”, link here

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that even private employers (even given “employment at will”) may not make overbroad rules that control what associates may say on their own social media accounts.  They can make rules that are more specific, as to revealing particular trade secrets, or making deliberate or offensive personal attacks on other employees or customers.
The article discusses a case in Buffalo, NY where a Hispanics United, a non-profit social services agency, fired Mariana Cole-Rivera and four other co-workers for making generalized complaints on Facebook about the way workload in the office was shared. They were reinstated after 3-1 vote.  

The ruling does not seem to be concerned about whether a person’s social media account is marked as public (“everyone”) or restricted to followers or friends’ lists.  In recent months, it has become more common to find Twitter logs are restricted to followers, and Facebook posts and walls are restricted to friends.  But many people, myself included, leave everything public because we don’t discuss overly personal matters in social media.

The ruling did not seem to have been posted yet at the NLRB website.

Workplace advisors in the past have warned that depending on privacy settings to control distribution of posts can be unreliable, as posts, like emails, often get forwarded.

As I have discussed on my “Job Market” blog (Jan. 5, 2013), I actually transferred and relocated after a corporate merger to avoid what I thought was a “conflict of interest” over the military (as a customer) and “gay rights”, back in 1997.  But I was going to have published a book, which could bring financial gain or public recognition or “notoriety”.   “Getting published” was seen as a major undertaking and event in those days, even as self-publishing was changing the rules.  Today’s social media world expects that most posts (about specific companies or specific people) will be seen by a limited list of people and not become general public knowledge, although in fact many anomalies or “scandals” start with social media.  In practice, I have found that Twitter can be pretty effective (more than Facebook) in making a particular problem public even if one has relatively few followers.   

Employment attorney Audrey Mross discusses “Facebook in the Workplace” in a posting eleven months ago.

Employers wonder why they can’t fire employees who “bash the boss” on social media.  The video says that the day is coming when companies will need a social media policy. 

I’ve related here how I was banned from a particular school when substitute teaching because of a posting (a fictitious screenplay) on my own website (July 27, 2007).  I actually felt pressured to resign from the job but was later reinstated, but could not return to that school.  It’s possible that this action (by the school) might not have stood up to legal challenge.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Did I have a "disability" as a youngster? The question becomes both moral and medical

Last Tuesday (Jan. 13, 2013) I outlined my focus on the rights and responsibilities of those of us who are “different” (hopefully not too “special”) and indicated that I thought my own life provided some strong suggestions in that area. I’d like to go down that part further today with some “remarks”.  Oh, this sounds so much like a graduate school mathematics course!

I’ve noted that I was “behind” others of my age in gender in physical strength, agility and perhaps endurance as I grew up.  I first became aware of this in third grade (1951) because the teacher made so much of it.  I had been a good student.  I remember starting that year with an alarming incident (the lowest grade in the class on a “My Weekly Reader” test) but quickly pulled out of the cellar on academics and became at least a reasonably good student again rather quickly.  I was “teased” a lot in grade school and middle school (which ran through ninth grade then), but outgrew some of the social issues quickly in high school, which went much better.  Physically, I remained behind.  Physical Education was mandatory but didn’t “count” (maybe it should).  I always got a “C” in it (except once I got a “D” in 11th grade on the tumbling unit).  But I developed some moderate skills, like being able to hit a slow-pitched softball a reasonable distance, well into the outfield.

I was “deferred”, perhaps spoiled, from the military draft until I finished graduate school, and entered the Army in February, 1968.  I was “protected” from becoming cannon fodder in Vietnam (so soon after the Tet Offensive).   But I got recycled once and spent four weeks in Special Training Company (“Tent City” in Fort Jackson, SC) until I could pass the PCPT (Physical Combat Proficiency Test).  I had particular problems with the expected male (or maybe “lesbian”) upper body strength (the parallel bars), but improve steadily.  In the end, I passed the PCPT at graduation with a comfortable margin, almost in the middle of the pack, at age 24.  I scored low Sharpshooter on the rifle range (which did not turn out to be difficult at all, almost “fun”), and scored reasonably on the “G3 Testing” at the end of Basic.  I remember the experience vividly, living in another world that would sound unbelievable to many young people today. The student deferment system of the time reinforced a belief system that individual people owned intrinsic moral "grades" that could sometimes guide the sacrifices society could demand from them, or the benefit of the more "worthy".  And we had won a war to defeat that kind of thinking! This was an era where the show title "The Biggest Loser" would be viewed as a pun.
After Basic, and for a few years, I would be the most physically fit at any time in my life. At a church retreat in 1969 (long after Basic, when I was safety tucked away at Fort Eustis, BA), I hit a real “home run” in a softball game, actually clearing an outfield hedge at a normal distance from home plate  -- on the first pitch of the game, when no one expected me capable of this.

So was my “physical weakness” and social awkwardness a genuine physical disability – a medical issue – or the result of physical “laziness” and flawed character?  There has never been a clear medical diagnosis of anything, although I have had a slightly irregular heartbeat all my life.  In the environment in which I was reared, it was seen as a “moral” issue.  In the Army, it could have skirted malingering and cowardice, in the days when sacrifice could be legally demanded of young men (it still could be).  In an interim phone bank job in 2003, a coworker, legally blind, said that I should accept the idea that I had been disabled "too".    
In more recent times, we’ve read of kids overcoming autism with great dedication from teachers (as with the book “Game of my Life” by Jason McElwain ("Jmac"), Books blog,. March 18, 2008) or sometimes on their own (with recent media reports).  Still, when I was growing up, respect for the potential of people with disabilities was nowhere developed as it is today. There was a sense that developmental disability was a “moral” issue, and sometimes as kids are taught behaviors  even today (as I saw as a substitute teacher), the instruction they get (as "tough love") may leave them with that feeling. 
Of course, this relates to the problem of bullying.  My experience with this was not as bad as what some kids have experienced in more recent times.  Nevertheless, once in a while I could “pass it down the chain”.  Once, at age 14, near the end of ninth grade, I verbally teased a classmate with epilepsy, and got reprimanded not only by a physical education teacher but also by the school nurse!  Today, in some school systems, that behavior could result in suspension and a year in an alternative school.  I feel  aghast that I could have done this.  Is it teen brain immaturity?  I think it was partly a literal extension of a prevalent cultural belief that any sort of disinclination to keep up with others and make any demonstration at all was a “moral” problem that should be contained.

I grew up in a world where conformity would be coerced, as it often is demanded by force in many cultures today.  I think there is a belief that families and communities have to hang together to survive a dangerous world, and that “weaker” members depend on the “strong” to protect them, and can become “burdens” on others to make the sacrifices for the common good. The, it seems just that the “weak” must do what the “strong” tell them to do, and must prove themselves somehow through rites of passage.  It’s an acceptance of a Darwinian idea of social combat, that some kind of cohesive structure is necessary, and will be rules by those who “win”.

Sometimes I would be told that I should keep a “low profile” and not draw too much attention to myself, and that I should not imagine that I had the standing to speak to the problems of the world, lest I draw the hostility of others, possibly on other family members besides myself.  This notion sometimes came up in my recent period of eldercare for my mother when I came back “home” as a kind of “prodigal son”.  That sounds like an extension of the culture of the organized crime world, doesn’t it!  You owe your life to those who can “protect” you, or you prove you can “protect” others below you.  Sometimes, it doesn’t sound much like a life worth living, does it!

I wind up with a definite sense of what is expected of someone in my “position” or “situation”.  The rules are like this:  Accept the fact that “you” depend on others in ways you don’t see.  Don’t draw attention to yourself.  Do what others want.  Don’t make too much of your own ideas or plans.  (I wonder, if my own “purpose” isn’t respected, why should I be around or be loved? But watch what happens next.)  Since “we” loved you, then learn to love others whom you might otherwise perceive as “beneath” you.  Don’t look upward too much.  Outside family or tribe, “ocelot” heroes have clay feet.  (Well, I saw, I already learned to beware the hairless man like Lance Armstrong.)  Don’t indulge in your fantasy or dream world, enter the world of real life.  Learn to take care of others, using gender-appropriate skills as much as possible (and be prepared to sacrifice, because others do, in their own ways).  Eventually, you’ll be able to marry and have children and have a little Capecod-cottage domain space around yourself (although maybe in someone else’s model railroad!)  Most of all, realize it isn’t about you (out of Rick Warren), or that you may not matter as much as you want to – you may have to accept the idea that it will be your descendants who can amount to something publicly or globally. It "isn't about you", it's about "shared goals", governed in granularity by the "natural family". 

This sure sounds like swallowing (and not retching on) some humble pie. It is also an "alternate universe" of morality, self-evident in older generations but rather forgotten today.  Of course, it opens people to the abuse of authoritarian leadership, which may need to have some sense of earned or deserved superiority ratified. But it does recognize that you need cohesion and leadership, or your clan might not make it at all.  
There are (indeed) a few good reasons why people can expect these things.

One is a basic principle of freedom, particularly as social conservatives see it.  One is that government is less intrusive if we don’t depend on it for a social safety net. But then we have to depend on one another a lot more. That ultimately means that every one of us, if we expect respect from others and to have a voice, need to have a stake and this means we start by taking our turn taking care of others. Of course, the "Left" has a valid point when it says that a reasonable social safety net can actually free people to take the necessary risks to raise the standard of living for themselves and others (families and else).  

A second idea is closely related.  We’re supposed to value all human life.  That means all of us have to pitch in.  A few democratic countries, in fact, are already experimenting with allowing limited euthanasia (International Issues, Jan. 15, 2013). 

A third idea, again related, is population demographics.  Medicine is enabling people to live much longer.  But this is only practical if adult children and even siblings accept filial responsibility (which brings back the old idea that marriage, through procreation, is the way social power over others in a local unit is distributed).  One can see from all these considerations that the “requirement” to take care of others doesn’t necessarily wait for sexual intercourse to create a baby. In fact, that puts a new twist on the way we look at marriage and avoiding unwanted pregnancy (or waiting until much older to have children, or not being willing to have children at all because of the risk or opportunity cost).  We can’t put off the “responsibility” forever.
A fourth idea has to do with more general concerns about environmental sustainability (as well as fiscal stability in the area of debt and entitlements).  People may have to live more “locally” in the future than now.  They may have to do more for themselves and each other. Real privations in the future are possible, and these could happen because of unprecedented storms, or because of asymmetric war resulting from “overconsumption” by the “rich”.  The “right” often points out that today’s consumption is coming out of the resources of the unborn.  The logical moral answer is that everyone should have a “stake” in the future – through specific people, hopefully their own children, or else other people’s children that they have taken responsibility for.  “Generativity” has become a new moral value.

It’s a relatively new idea to speak of responsibility for future generations as a personal moral requirement.  In the past, it was taken for granted or unspoken.  In fact, “living for yourself” wasn’t an active possibility.  When my parents met in the 1930s in Washington DC, people didn’t have their own apartments until they got married – they lived in Y’s.  People couldn’t afford to live without generating social capital (and human capital through children) on their own.  All that changed with technology.  But it could suddenly reverse because of environmental or even astronomical catastrophe, or because of the global indignation we have generated – or perhaps we can go into “prevent defense” mode and with good policy choices avoid the worst and keep our good lives.

In retrospect, it would seem that I lived in an unsustainable mode, consuming and going on trips where I rented cars with unlimited mileage—for myself.  People are generally not seen as morally culpable for behaviors that have become acceptable and available through the economy in their own environments.  That could change in the future.  Likewise, people aren’t excused for “getting out of the things”  (a favorite phrase of my late mother) that future generations avoid.  We weren’t afraid to call Bill Clinton a draft dodger.
In fact,  I was often concerned about maintaining the “infrastructure” necessary for me to meet my own needs.  That was an issue when I “came out” the second time in the early 1970s and moved to NYC.  And that’s an issue today with the Internet.  I need to “keep things together” to “protect” my presence online. And I have come to suspect that some individual people whom I would not hold in high regard have not done well because infrastructure failed them/  I have indeed recently learned more about interdependence -- that my effectiveness and reputation can depend on whether others can do their jobs. 
We have indeed become focused on our “rights” (an idea my own father found to be gratuitous).  I wrote about a local sermon about this on Dec. 18, 2011, after the Newtown tragedy.  The biggest challenge to “rights” in the face of protecting others recently has been in the gun control debate, but there is no reason in principle that the same ideas couldn’t apply to protecting minors on the Internet (as from cyberbullying) even though net freedom has been largely protected by First Amendment litigation so far (as with COPA).  I cannot presume that the environment of “no downstream liability” can be protected from challenges forever (look at the scare last year with SOPA).
Indeed, in becoming a self-publisher, I made a risky decision, that probably drove me further away from social interaction with those who might need it from me.  Other possible careers (as I have explained with substitute teaching) have been compromised by conflicts.
I do understand that an “expectation” that one have a “stake” in other people before being recognized could make the world more stable, and could help certain kinds of violence from getting out of control.  It is true that asymmetry matters in today’s world, and what one person does can affect millions or billions, for good or bad.  In fact, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 might have led to nuclear war had not one specific Russian submarine commander personally decided that it must not – just long enough for Kennedy’s strategy to work.
Why did I not have a stake in progeny?  I can say that I found the whole world of heterosexual courtship and “competition” to be personally “humiliating”, because of my own “physical competition” disadvantages.  Whether they were the result of nature or moral laziness I cannot say for sure.  Now, I find calls for some kinds of social interaction (such as with volunteerism and the government’s offputting idea of “pledging hours” rather than money, “giving away time”, which is finite, to pay your dues and earn a stake) problematic, because I didn’t create my own stake.  These problems in “The Lives of Others” were not of my creation personally, but they are mine as a member of a community. 

I have indeed, in recent years, been surprised (even ambushed) by calls to becoming involved personally (even physically sometimes) with others, in situations where I would not have expected to be welcome (in our "mind your own business" world).  Sometimes I say, it's difficult, to fake being a "fatherly role model" if I did not have my own family.  (I recall a great line in the 2001 movie "The Business of Strangers": "You have no family.")  It would seem humiliating, right?  Yet, there may be a canard here, a chicken-egg problem.  You form a family when you've developed the socialization and ability to share goals.  (Gay families would become a whole sidebar here.)  But there is still another twist: it is the process of putting oneself in the limelight (by self-publishing one's story) that brings about this surprising expectation.
I made a truce, and led a productive adult life (at least up to age 69-1/2).  With only slightly more adverse circumstances, the results could have been catastrophic.  Some of the recent events in the news are indeed chilling, and I can see a little of myself in some of this, had it gone wrong.  Individualism encourages innovation, and too much social capital can discourage it, even though social capital is essential for making the world a fairer and more stable place.  I’ve walked the knife edge on this one.    

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A "filmstrip" showing how "The Internet defeated SOPA"

Remember those film strips in grade school (as a substitute for movies)?  We had them back in the 1950s?
There’s a film strip or slide show “How the Internet Killed the ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’” on Ars Technica, in the “Law and Disorder” column, posted by Timothy B. Lee on Ars Technica, with photos by Ralph Alsawng. 

It starts with Senator Patrick Leah’s introduction of COICA, which would have required DNS servers, credit card processors and ad networks to block federally banned websites.  It moves to a picture of Aaron Swartz, who founds Demand Progess. It moves on to PIPA and SOPA (Lamar Smith), which would have allowed private copyright holders demand blocking of access to banned sites, endrounding DMCA and even re-imposing downstream liability risks. 

A later panel depicts Godaddy’s dropping of SOPA support. The next-to-last panel has the Internet going on strike on Jan. 18, 2012. Here is the filmstrip by “Timo II”:

The overriding issue, in retrospect, was that establishment interests didn’t want to have to worry about low-cost competition. (Even BlogMaverick has confirmed this to me in an email one time.)   It wasn't just about "piracy".That’s corporate establishment and union and guild establishment.  Bringing back downstream liability, increasing gate-keeping and barrier-to-entry is a sure way.  Does the tiny independent filmmaker who posts innovative videos on YouTube compete with Hollywood for my time?  Afraid so. Are the economics for newbies different?  Yes. Likes and page views become like currency.  
The other place where the downstream liability issue is due to come back is Section 230.  The issues are going to have to do with online reputation (particularly reputation extortion) and cyberbullying, and sometimes even privacy, especially for minors.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Putting public domain works back into copyright

Electronic Frontier Foundation has reminded us of another important copyright issue, a decision by the Supreme Court (in early 2013) in Golan v. Holder, upholding a law that removed many works by foreign authors from public domain and put them back under copyright protection. The article is “The Copyfight’s next stage: We all speak together,” here

I could note, with some slyness, that here an organization (which I regularly support with a trust contribution) is suggesting that individual speakers need to show some solidarity, and that almost sounds like an oxymoron.

According to Wikipedia, some of the intellectual property at issue includes some films, including :The 39 Steps” (Alfred Hitchcock), “Blackmal”, “Metropolis” (I haven’t reviewed this here but I saw it in Dallas in the early 1980s), and “The Third Man”.  It’s not hard to see that media corporations still see that they can make money from films like this.  (I  recently bought a hard-to-find DVD of a non-pd film “Saratoga Trunk" for my own screenwriting research purposes – and that makes the point that some of this material is valuable.
The document for the opinion is still readily available at the Supreme Court website, link here. The legislation at issue is the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 (USPTO link).

Nate Anderson had written a piece for Ars Technica in April 2009, “Court: Congress can’t put public domain back into copyright”.  But it certainly did.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Economist surveys the "new politics of the Internet"

The Economist has an important article, “The New Politics of the Internet: Everything Is Connected: Can Internet activism turn into a real political movement?,”  from “Berlin and Dubai”,  link here   (provided by EFF).  Note: there may be a paywall in effect for some content from this publication (and that's ironic, given the article).  

The article lays out the “new economics” of the digital world, rather non-Euclidean, with the whole being more than the sum of its parts.  The value of publishing information or art (such as music or film) goes way beyond the “bottom line” the way businesses (and shareholders or stakeholders) have seen it in the past, which is one reason why the Hollywood establishment has such a hard time dealing with it.  Hence – we had the battle in 2011 and early 2012 over SOPA and PIPA – and we might not have won without Aaron Swartz, one of the major contributors to our notion of Commons.

It also gives a little early history of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was formed in large part to strike down the obnoxious parts of the 1996 Telecommunications Act – the Communications Decency Act provisions – and save the parts that protect providers from downstream liability (Section 230).
It mentions a couple of new books.  One os Brett Frischmann, “Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resrouces” which sounds like it is along the lines of Thomas Friedman.  Another is James Boyle, “The Public Domain”.  I can remember when I was getting my first book manufactured, a printer who had a total misconception about what “the public domain” means.

The article discusses a derivative group “Pirate Party”, which is not the same thing as “Pirate Bay”, in Germany. It also talks about a political experiment called “Liquid Feedback”, which bridges “direct and representative democracy” (try that in high school government class, subs!)  Individuals can delegate their voting power to delegates and then withdraw it.  Would that work in the IS to defuse the “debt ceiling crisis”? 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My own nine innings (video worksheet outline): What should be expected of those who are different?

I am planning to start work on my “documentary” video (supplementing my “Do Ask Do Tell” books) soon, and I want to outline the flow of what I am doing.  The steps here are like innings in a baseball game. You have to get through the bottom of the ninth!


My major objective is to look at the moral rights and responsibilities of those who are “different”, in a pluralistic, democratic society (hopefully, ours). I have the impression that we live with an "alternative moral universe" (by analogy to the "alternative minimum tax") where "personal responsibility" for choices is supplanted by an expectation to share sacrifices and a sense of purpose at a very personal level. 
What do I mean by “different”?  I think it refers to personality and cognitive traits that tend to lead the individual to be particularly interested in self-expression and public recognition, with less interest in “fitting in” and meeting directly the real needs of people in a local (especially) family situation, but with some genuine deployable talent in expressive or innovative arts.  The expectation to meet others’ “needs” does not necessarily follow from personal choices or conduct; it has more to do with “common good” at some social level. The person is often less able than average to interact socially with others and to “compete”.
You can certainly be “straight” and be “different”.   I am certainly different.  I could say that both Mark Zuckerberg and Michelle Rhee are “different”, although they don’t really seem to have real personal social issues (they are just believed to have them  -- Rhee, as a child, didn't care what others thought of her).  I would say that neither Barack Obama nor John Boehner (or Mitt Romney) is different in this sense.

My own story provides a lot of material for exploring this question, in terms of coercion that has been brought on me regarding the needs of others, particularly during my upbringing and young adulthood, through the time of my compulsory military service (hint!), and again during may period of eldercare with my mother.  The details of many incidents and episodes, along with similar materials about other people,  create a pattern of moral values and suggest some conclusions through inductive reasoning – the kind of logic you use on a USPS “number sequence” test.
This sort of question is a challenge to hyperindividualism, to modern concepts of individual sovereignty and personal autonomy.  It was understood as relevant when I was growing up in a Cold War world, shortly after World War II.  It has seen less evident since the late 1960s, but has become more serious as freedom (as we have come to know it) seems undermined by external threats (terrorism, indignation), demographics (an aging population), infrastructure vulnerability (like the power grid), and long term environmental instability (climate change), although energy independence questions do seem to be turning a corner.  It is no longer morally acceptable for people to think that what happens to future generations after they are gone does not matter.
Personal freedom, especially in self-expression (as on the Internet) implies a corollary, that integrity of purpose matters.  It does not make sense to be “listened to” if you don’t like the people who will receive your content.  So shouldn’t “you” be comfortable with meeting their needs personally and “fitting in”?
Most of the coercive pressures on “outliers” like me have to do with being more responsive to the needs of “family” (even without or before having any children of “my” own).   Serving the interests of family does not necessarily mean serving the best interests of larger communities or “society”.  Gospel teachings seem to stress that all people are “neighbors” regardless of “family”.
Issues of “difference” don’t necessarily relate to sexual orientation. But once someone is gay, in the past, homosexuality has come to be perceived as “the issue”.  Past generations tended to see same sex orientation as a “proxy” for refusal to accept the (“necessary”) social demands of others, and particular as a refusal to accept responsibility for lineage and for other generations.  Yes, a lot of this tends to be about having children.  Some of it is economic (the “disposable income” issue that dominated family policy debates in the 1990s) and some is more personal  (the ability to bond to other people just because they are “family”).  Some of it is also gender related, as people have difficulty adjusting to the idea that gender-based complementarity in the community (in areas like military service) is less important than it once had been.  There is also a “virtue commons” effect.  Some people feel that “I can do what I should do for my family if I know everybody else has to do the same thing.”  The old-fashioned view of homosexuality as “sinful” or “sick” certain provides a curious paradox;  if it is morally wrong, is is unique among sins, as it seems to have to do more with omission than commission.  It almost sounds as though procreation is an intrinsic moral responsibility. “Reproduction rules”, but then what matters are “the rules of engagement”.
One can imagine some “fundamental moral principle” for individuals, maybe an extension or corollary of the Golden Rule.  That is, if you have “trouble” competing and someone else has loved you nevertheless, you have to do the same for someone else relative to you, before you advance your own ends.  That rather makes the world “fair”.  It presumes everyone accepts some socialization.  It implies that one must have the skills not only to take care of oneself but to take care of others locally, before making decisions like having children and marriage -- and this idea certainly affects the cultural meaning of "marriage."  To neglect this requirement personally is to wind up “watching your back”, or at least not trusting yourself, and vulnerable to instability resulting from unseen dependency on others.  Otherwise, later in life, the worst possible situation is to be forced to accept dependence on others on their terms.  That is, get “smacked down”.

Conservative thought is predicated on the idea that if people want to be free from government interference, they must depend on it less for a social safety net, and that means they must depend on one another within family and other local units much more.  This means that individual "freedom" is mediated by local need. It clearly ties in to the idea that there is an obligation to provide for other generations, going way beyond the idea that responsibility starts just  when you "choose" to have children. The idea also links to the extreme value we place on all human life in our culture, which places additional responsibility on others.   "Generativity" has become even more important morally given demographics and the long term environmental probems. 
Maybe we won’t need to bat in the bottom of the ninth (the “x” in the line score).  You win at home.  I’ve covered a lot of this in my first two “Do Ask Do Tell” books.  I will write a “Part III” booklet that presumes knowledge of the first two books.  But the video presumes nothing and starts my narrative over, and then goes back and refills a lot of detailed points, and then tries to develop an argument or syllogism. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Aaron Swartz tragedy: What happens when prosecutors turn into bullies

The tragic conclusion of the life of 26-year-old free-speech activist Aaron Swartz has led to comments about prosecutors bullying defendants in going after venial “crimes”.

Lawrence Lessig told CNN today that there is a huge difference between “hacking” social security numbers, and “illegally” downloading documents from a non-profit that were probably going to be viewed free anyway.

Democracy Now” offers this perspective from Dr. Lessig.

Petterico reports Swartz’s attorney as saying that prosecutors’ arguments were “contrived”, here. "Prosecution" is not supposed to be the same as "persecution".  

Tim Lee (who writes for ArsTechnica, Forbes, and the Cato Institute   (sometimes about the intricacy of copyright law and DMCA abuse) – I met him when he was a student at the University of Minnesota when I was living in Minneapolis) offers this perspective on the “Wonkblog” on the Washington Post, “American Hero”, link here

Does it indeed take the willingness to skirt the law to innovate?  Probably so.  I’m reminded of another observation, seemingly distant, from libertarian author Charles Murray (also in our general geographical area, far exurban Maryland)   that “social capital” is absolutely necessary for sustainability, but it comes at a price of conformity and stifling innovation.

Prosecutors say they need to “make examples”.  It’s pretty easy to see overreaching of law enforcement in other areas of law enforcement.  For example, in Arlington VA, a young woman was arrested in 2007 in a Regal Cinema for camcording a few seconds from “Transformers”  (Movies blog, Aug. 3, 2007).  I don’t know whether the charges stuck. 


Later Monday, at 7:30 PM EST, Tim Lee, Lawrence Lessig and Maria Bustillos appeared live on Al Jazeera.  All of them discussed the supposed "offense" that Swartz "committed" at Pacer, downloading JSTOR documents.  Apparently the property owner did not want to prosecute.  There is some sense that the prosecution is based on an overreaching interpretation of a vaguely worded law from the 1980s.  The government is trying to make violations of "terms of service" of a private service a prosecutable offense (like a criminal trespass).  The charges could have led to a maximum of 35 years in prison and $1 million fines, and Swartz's resources had been drained by fighting what seemed like a frivolous prosecution that might have been dismissed or overturned on appeal. 

Swartz was a leader in the opposition to SOPA during the winter of 2011-2012 and had helped organize the one day boycott that encouraged Congress to drop the law.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Anderson Cooper "KTH" on Florida professor's conspiracy theory is significant for online reputation

An Anderson Cooper KTH (“Keeping Them Honest”) report on Friday night again underlined another concern about online reputation.

The report concerned an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, James Tracy, who launched on a blog a story that Newtown had been staged as a government anti-gun conspiracy.  The link is (website url) here

The University says that the blog expresses the views of Tracy alone, and do not represent the position of the University.  Nevertheless, I have sometimes noted the “conflict of interest” problems inherent when people in positions of authority speak out in a manner contradictory (real or apparent) to their responsibilities. 

Anderson also interviewed Jonathan Kay, author of “Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conpiracist Underground” (Harper, 2011).  Kay said that the Internet, since it encourages or allows user generated content and self-publishing, tends to contain a larger percentage of content that is extreme in one form or another.  When names are mentioned in extremist posts, they may for a while move to the top of search engine rankings on the names, possibly affecting the reputations of the individuals or families involved.  This seems to have happened with one or two of the families in the Newtown tragedy. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Business ethics, professional sports teams, values, and acting like role models for young people: Yes, Redskins's coach Shanahan should be fired

Back in 2003, I actually designed a certification test for Brainbench on “business ethics”, as one of my “smaller” interim jobs.

I think we’ve seen a big fracture in “ethics” in professional sports recently.  Yes, that’s the sorry spectacle Sunday when the Washington Redskins allowed their start rookie quarterback to remain in the game against the Seattle Seahawks on January 6 after he had obviously reinjured his knee late in the first quarter. 

The Redskins led 14-0 after the first quarter, and after the injury, the Seakhawks scored 24 unanswered points, 11 of them in the final quarter. 

Even to a novice like me, it was obvious that Griffin could not perform by the time the third quarter started.  Miraculously, the Redskins still led 14-13 after three quarters.  There seems little doubt that the Redskins would have had a good chance to win the game had Kirk Cousins been put in for the second half.
But winning the game isn’t the issue.  The Redskins coaching and management has failed to protect the well-being of its players, and jeopardized the future signing of more promising players. Mike Shanahan’s conduct of the matter approaches abuse.  He should lose his job over this.

What’s more perplexing is that Shanahan must have known about the careful treatment that the Washington Nationals (a few miles away on the new Anacostia waterfront), who had also won a divisional MLB NL East title in 2012, regarding their prize young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, recovering from Tommy John surgery.  The Nationals management knows that signing and keeping key players for consecutive seasons means protecting their well-being and taking care of injuries properly.  The Nats shut down Strasburg even when he thought he could pitch, and were properly concerned about his mechanics late in the season even in some games that he had won, even if less convincingly (such as a game in August in Arizona). 

Sports teams also face ethical issues in managing their playing fields.  The Redskins were criticized for poor field condition at Fed-Ex field, increasing the likelihood of injury.  A Nationals catcher, Wilson Ramos, had a season-ending knee injury in Cincinnati last season because of field problems. 

The treatment of players by professional sports teams sends a message to young people, especially young men, about our values.  Shanahan acted like a Wall Street broker selling bad mortgages, going for short-term gain and that backfired.  This is not a value system that matches our need to think about sustainability and the well being a future generations.  
For the story on the new Reebok and MC10 technology to track concussive injury in sports, see the latest story at Engadger, here. The idea that young men and boys were supposed to put themselves on the line just "for the team" and risk lifetime dependency and disability was a major controversy when I was growing up.  No, I didn't want to play football.  To be overly protective of the physical self (for boys) was considered "sissy" or "cowardly" in the 1950s.