Sunday, June 30, 2013

Copyright permissions to set text to music an issue for composers

Here’s another copyright issue I had never thought about.  Brooklyn (New York) composer Timo Andres recently discussed composing vocal music and brought up the question of getting permission to set texts to music, when the music will be performed publicly and published.
He brings up the issue in a blog posting June 24, here. (He has a lot of other postings of interest to Apple MacBook users working with music -- like Sibelius -- and about the contributions of Steve Jobs.) 

I wonder if the issue of setting words to music fits into the discussion of derivative works.
There are some disturbing examples out there.  For example, on March 26, 2013 I discussed the poet who played copyright troll with her “Dash Poem” whenever if got read at church funerals, and on June 14 I took up the controversy over copyrighting the “Happy Birthday” song. 
I sent off an email to Electronic Frontier Foundation about this question.

It seems to me that a related question would occur with transpositions: let's say someone transcribes a guitar and band song to piano as an art song and performs it in recital. ("In the Moonlight" sounds like a good experiment.)  What are the copyright and permissions issues? 
For book authors, there are companies that will get permissions for quotes, but there is also a “Fair Use” doctrine which should make permission for short quotes unnecessary.  Yet, there is also the risk of frivolous litigation from a financial bully.  Some people say they really have to make a living from their stuff, because they have families to support!

Friday, June 28, 2013

More history of my first "Do Ask, Do Tell" book, and "conflict of interest"

Today, o the “Issues” blog,  I referred to the “conflict of interest” that I perceived when I wrote and published my first book (“Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back”) while I was employed by a life insurance company that specialized in selling life insurance to military officers. 
As many readers know, I traced the history of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military up to 1997, and particularly my own ironic relationship to the policy, given my history of being thrown out of a civilian college in 1961 (William and Mary), but, after taking the draft physical three times, getting “drafted” in 1968 and “serving without serving”, being rather sheltered by my education.

The company *USLICO”, in Arlington VA, was acquired by NWNL in Minneapolis in early 1995, and the new company became (with a few other components) ReliaStar, which would in turn be bought by Dutch conglomerate ING in 2000. 

I did discuss the matter with the company at the end of 1996.  Although everything was informal and off the record, it seemed everyone agreed that a transfer to Minneapolis to the new host company, and away from the appearance of a possible conflict would be a good idea.  I took a new position in Minneapolis at the beginning of September, 1997, rented an apartment on the Skyway at the nearby Churchill, and started one of the best periods of my life 
When my mother, back in Arlington, needed coronary bypass surgery in May 1999, I did not come right back for the Monday morning of the surgery, and did not cancel a prepaid trip to Europe which followed shortly thereafter. (I'm lucky that the medical conflict did not explode in 1997; it might have.)   I went back to see her in June.  During that period, I worked back at the office in Arlington, but for formal COI reasons did not get paid for those days.  That’s the way I handled it. ‘
Right after her surgery, she did go to an SNF (skilled nursing facility) for two weeks, where she was treated carelessly.  A friend intervened, but of course I caught some social criticism for not being there.  I was asked why family reasons would not justify my transferring back, and I stuck to my guns that doing so would be ethically inappropriate given what I had published.  We hired a live-in caregiver, and she recovered well by August.
Of course, there’s another overview of all this.  The military issue was so sensitive because military service involves opening oneself to sacrifice, as we know from the days of the draft and the deferment system, which I wrote about extensively in my first book.  So why shouldn’t I be expected to prove I could “step up” now, and make a sacrifice?  Maybe use the family leave from the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (unpaid)? 
All of this fits into a “class warfare” kind of discussion, I can see that. I do know that the culture of my own upbringing in the 1950’s was that it’s wrong to expect to “ get out of things” (a term of my mother) that others then have to endure, even imposed by an unjust external world. 

It just might be that when everyone has to “step up” and does, a more virtuous cycle follows.  People accept and embrace some interdependence and social capital.  People accept the idea that complementarity will occur in their most personal relationships.  In the modern world, complementarity is no longer predicated so much on gender as on polarity, and it has to be more flexible than it used to be -hence, the “modern family” which must be “family” nevertheless.  Part of the reason this gets necessary is that when people are left too much on their own, they just run into bad luck, and yet are still judged as failing.  Then respect for “responsibility” and democratic values really can break down, and real class warfare can start.  That’s how it looks to me now.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Inhabitable planetary system may sit 22 light years from us; Imagine the politics, and the implementation of social media there

John Tmmer has an article in Ars Technica about a small star (an M-star or red dwarf) that may have between three and seven rocky planets within its “goldilox zone” of possible habitation

The link for the story is here.

The star is “GJ667C”.  It’s likely that several of these planets are “tidally locked”, suggesting that most life might exist in an annular twilight zone between heat and cold.

Politically, a solar system with more than one planet hosting a civilization would be most interesting, having issues we cannot imagine, regarding economics, travel, and resources, and the relative status of beings who may be similar and able to live in more than one world but not “equal” as we know the concept.

I even think that other solar systems might host beings accepting “souls” (possibly common or collective) originally developed by life here on Earth.  Imagine that sort of discovery in an JJ Abrams or M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Wikipedia has an article and illustrations here

The Gliese system is 22 light years from Earth, and may have more than one “sun” with habitable planets.  This could be within reach in another century if we don’t blow our entire civilization (to climate change or EMP).  Your grandkids may see it; you may not.  It’s like Moses and the Promised Land. 
Pictures: Mockup for my DADT sci-fi screenplay.  The top has the "oily lake" (depressed area with boat) and the "Tower of Ned" on Titan;  the second is the "Angels' Strip" (or "Angels' Boot Camp") with training areas (corresponding to different historical periods) for "abductees".  A railroad runs through it.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

What my media is all about: It can't fit into "123 words".

I’ve faced considerable pressure to conform to the demands of the “real lives” of others at some points in my life.   I’ve created media trying to communicate my experience, and tried to maintain objectivity, avoiding partisanship or visible solidarity.  I’ve preached the libertarian (and liberating) virtues of personal responsibility and competitiveness, and tending to eschew playing victim.
I get some personal feedback, and some further looping in my own thought processes, about what seems like a lack of personal stake in the lives of others, especially in the future.  I seem emotionally aloof and unresponsive to needs of others.  I can say that their problems did not (directly) result from my choices or actions, and that “public life” is more in tune with what can be done for people with special needs than it was when I was growing up decades ago.  I also am sensitive to my past experience of social interaction as humiliating, to be eschewed if following my own agenda works (and it often has).  But what seems most disturbing is that I am not immune to bad luck either (and may have had better economic support than many others), and if improving the life of someone else required some sacrifice from me, I would feel I had really accomplished anything positive.  The moral importance of social interdependence is becoming apparent.

It is not easy for me to step in to situations requiring personal attention and "intimacy" (as it was not for my late mother) when I did not raise a family myself.  Yet the lack of family could be viewed as reciprocal to a basic lack of interpersonal emotion, itself related to social and physical shortcomings.  It feels as if my brain or soul did not have the capacity for what it wanted to do, and for the attentiveness to others that was demanded of it.  
I often have to deal with other people’s notions of what should be expected of me on some moral (or sometimes religious) grounds.   Sometimes this (unsolicited) “advice” subsumes ultimately contradictory ideas, One can, however,  through some inductive reasoning, develop a certain ethical philosophy over how people who are “different” are expected to behave. 
This may be a shocking notion today, inasmuch as we try to celebrate diversity including the contributions of those with disabilities.  But whether my problems, especially with male physical competitiveness, constitute disability (possibly in the autism spectrum) would provide a real question and put me on a sharp mountain “knife edge” indeed.  What “different” people can do may be more critical today than in past generations because of globalization and technology with leverages individual asymmetry.
So I think it’s important to look at the question of “difference” through a moral lens, and relate it to issues of sustainability, which connect themselves (among environment, security, social inequality, and demographics) to make us really wonder about what the future brings.  It seems morally important for people to have personal stakes in the future.  It is also important to realize that it is impossible to achieve all policy goals perfectly and simultaneously, such as “equality”, privacy, security, and intergenerational responsibility. Trade-offs and choices have to be made.
Although the pressure on me came about at first with respect to self-expression and maybe limelight seeking, the “energy” transferred to concerns about my homosexuality early in the college years.  I’ve never found “immutability” a completely satisfactory justification for modern ideas of open acceptance and equality, because the arguments don’t  completely work in other areas where clearly destructive behaviors (directly impacting others) may occur.  My own experience, influenced by physical issues with logical learning toward social upward affiliation, may not be as typical as I used to think.  Still, I have always (ever since my first cultural skirmish at college in the early 60’s) wondered why others made my lack of heterosexual passion their business and would punish me for it.  I think we know some of the answer:  reproduction, and the whole familial social structure it maintains,  is important to others (particularly if you’re an only child).  In some families, especially if expressive individual opportunities are limited,  it can become “the” issue.  In my case, some people seemed distracted by my tendency to “notice” men and develop a lot of fantasy substance around it; others could fear that I was setting a dangerous example for others on the edge.

In some  situations, men are expected to join in cohesion to protect women and children in a community, although that perspective has been largely defused.  Religious authority, most of all the Vatican (as well as fundamentalism in many faiths) likes to emphasize openness to sharing the personal  sacrifice and personal complementarity  that comes in sustaining a community.  One way to impress this was to articulate a rule that sexuality should be experienced only in the setting of permanent monogamous (heterosexual) marriage open to procreation as long as possible.  That way, a lot of family responsibility was guaranteed to be shared by everyone “no matter what”.  Such a rule affects persons of different emotional tempers very disparately.  Yet, spiritual authorities say that variability of personal sacrifice required in a community is inevitable. Because of the entropy and sense of meaning in any community, no one should live without owning up to the need for complementarity or at least polarity.   Such a theory sounds like it would maintain social stability and sustainability, but it obviously can facilitate an existing authoritarian religious, economic or political power structure, and it can remain to oblivious to existing injustices for generations (look at slavery and segregation, which used to comport with “family values”). 
It seems important to me to look at “personal responsibility” systematically in a broader manner, about how individuals with such different temperament and capabilities share the more difficult risks (both physical and emotional) in a culture that faces real issues to its sustainability.  I don’t see easy or perfect answers.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

CISPA and the NSA: was the NSA "doing everything" anyway?; Man indicted for a mere hyperlink

Today, in the elevator at the Wayne Street Garage in Silver Spring, MD, when going to AFI Docs, I overheard a “libertarian conversation, which aimed at the whole topic of the NSA snooping. The man (I wonder if he knows former Libertarian Party candidate Arvin Vohra from Montgomery County) said that the rationalizations that ordinary people had nothing to fear from the snooping “wasn’t the point’.  The issue was, what kind of democracy do we want to have.  Of course, the democracy of the founding fathers wasn’t always benign.  He did say that the average private user has much more to fear from criminals and hackers than the federal government, in practice. 
Is there any connection between CISPA and the current NSA “scandal” underlined by Edward Snowden?  The literature is rather loose on the subject.  It seems that CISPA would authorize (more easily) the government’s looking at the content of specific emails or private social media posts.  Others say that CISPA will make purely domestic “metadata” surveillance easier because it removes the “foreign involvement” component from most legal surveillance.  In practice, it seems to make little difference. 
It’s not totally clear, but most of the NSA looks probably do involve suspicion of a foreign connection, although that can be quite generous. 
It strikes me that is someone like Holmes (in Colorado) suddenly amasses an arsenal of weapons (and this is entirely domestic) and the NSA can detect it (from “pen register topology”), the public may be better off.  Is this part of the tradeoff?  I can’t say yet.   (Rural gun owners or “doomsday preppers” will say no way.) But on balance, right now, the risk of asymmetric terror is probably greater in practice to most citizens than is the risk of government intrusion.  What if someone is amassing components domestically to make a crude WMD (the the Xray gun in New York Stat, or an RF flux gun, that can destroy electronics for at least a few city blocks).  What if there is some novel miniature weapon, like a flash camera capable of inflicting injury?   Right now, the balance is really a troubling question, as far as I am concerned.
Robert X. Cringley has a story in Infoworld, “NSA, PRISM and CISPA: The conspiracy behind the conspiracy” link here.  The government, it says,   is specifically sheltering executives of Internet companies from liability for sharing information with the government.  Downstream liability, anyone? 
US News writer Jason Koebler has also been tracking the subject, as here

Looking up this subject today, I found a tangentially related story by Patrick McGuire on “Motherboard”,  about Barrett Brown, who was indicted apparently for supplying a hyperlink (in a chat room)  to a list of stolen credit card and authentication codes, link here. It’s rather scary that a simple hyperlink can bring the rather of a United States Attorney and a secret grand jury.  You might not know what hit you.  ("Stay out of jail!") 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The buck stops with me, no matter what

I do need to put my foot down on an issue and lay down the law.
I am working on the next phase of my publishing.  In general this effort will comprise a “Do Ask Do Tell III” book, to update all the history since 2002 (and really some prehistoric matters), a novel (“Angel’s Brother”), a video, and some piano music capable of being performed professionally by others.  The entire mix matters; this is the non-Euclidean case where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. 
I plan to give more details about these works soon, but I can give some needed overview now.
The non-fiction work (DADT III) in contain at least two supplements, a detailed transcript of my experience in Army Basic Combat Training in 1968, and a fiction story ("Expedition") about coal strip mining (or mountaintop removal) with some surprising personal aspects, written originally in 1981.  I’m contemplating adding one more short story about another quirk in my world that I think needs attention.
Great care is needed in turning out a non-fiction book, of course.  That’s partly because it hits a moving target, yet must come out at a specified point in time.  Right now, I am waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on two critical cases involving same-sex marriage; incorporating whatever the Court says (which I can predict with low certainty) into the text obviously takes some time.  Furthermore, other events have an effect on the “logical derivation”in what I say.  For example, how is the rather sudden but ambiguous “apology” from a well-known figure in the ex-gay movement to be interpreted?   None of this is easy to work into an existing document quickly and effectively.
Yet, I get calls and emails all the time, about being more aggressive in marketing older books (not very productive with policy-oriented non-fiction) and giving them new material, maybe in pieces. I have to tell callers that submitting works prematurely or in increments could violate the objectivity or integrity of the work, whatever the economic incentives. 
But my process is “what it is”.  To complete the non-fiction work properly, I need to circulate it through one separate proof-reader, and then probably submit it to the publishing company directly for a second edit.  All that takes time.
Further more, my own content “integrity” process requires a little more research and at least one more road trip to check out certain matters.  
Since I work alone, any setback in logistics (for example, utilities disruption from a storm, or even physical destruction or injury from crime) simply sets me back. Although there are some things I can do to work around some challenges, “the buck stops with me”.  No insurance policy can protect you for the value of your own unfinished work.  You have to take care of it yourself (see my posting May 28 on this).  I am nearing 70 years old.  Only I can secure my own legacy.  Joining someone else's cause, particularly putting on a uniform for them and taking others' direction, will not work now.  If I fail, even because of someone else’s wrong, or my own mistakes – either of these – that’s it. Perhaps one saying from Army Basic applies: “That’s the breaks.” I have to take a hint from people who succeed with their own work (there's more than one such "Timo") and stay on course, regardless of the distractions from others.  
I get a lot of phone and email solicitations.  I know it’s not easy for people to make a commission off me – and I know people depend on willingness of people to buy when contacted to make a living.  So I may sound a little snarky in having to say this.   (In fact, at an interview to be a life insurance agent in 2005, I was asked about willingness to buy from sales people!)   Some of this reflects how far our society has gone with efficiency and automation.  Jaron Lanier may be right – it’s cutting a lot of people out of middle-class incomes (see June 11 posting). 
It’s a problem.  I get maybe thirty marketing phone calls a week, and don’t have time for conversations with them.  This includes appeals to donations – but it’s more efficient to set up giving with a bank and give to reputable organizations that you already know (they don’t have to be tax exempt; they can be political).  But the Red Cross (the basics for disaster) and Save the Children rank high on the list.
I also get tremendous volumes of emails.  I’m not talking about spam.  I’m talking about proposals for interviews that seem off-track.  I know what employers think now when they have 500 resumes to peruse.  If they don’t get the gist of what the candidate or party offers in three seconds, it’s over.  There’s just not enough time.  (Perhaps there’s not enough time for background investigations on social media, either, but that’s another matter.)  
A lot of people send emails about the troubles of very narrow classes of “clientele”.  Some problems do seem to affect relatively few people but have broad implications for many more.  The “don’t ask don’t’ tell” policy for gays in the military was a prompt example.  But do the very specific issues of same-sex couples in the military now deserve the same attention?  I understand the implication, but the “reach” of the issue seems not as wide.  
Okay, as in “Cloud Atlas” (a great movie, I think – Movies blog, Oct. 26, 2012), yes, everything is connected.  The “tight coupling” of some peoples’ issues to the rest of the world is more evident to me with some controversies or injustices  than others.   That’s what I look for.

What’s our single biggest issue now?  Whether we really take care of our infrastructure, and our planet.  If we don’t, the buck still stops with me.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Nationals and Redskins and "injury management": OK, there are moral lessons in "shared responsibility"

Rooting for big league sports teams may be an expression of eusociality, and it may be an example of shared consciousness or shared identity, actually important in theoretical physics (Books blog, June 1).  So today, it’s time again to try to help the struggling Washington Nationals with a post.
One thing about dreams is that you can do what you want in them without consequences.  You can change the rules.  Last night, I dreamed I was at a Nat’s game, and in the top of the Ninth, with the Nats protecting a one-run lead, the visitor hit a line drive into the right field corner, and after misplaying, made an inside-the-park homerun.  But the batter missed second base.  So I ran out onto the field, got the ball, and touched the bag.  The Nats won, with the help of a tenth player on the field (me).  Call it “Inception”.
The Nationals are struggling for two main reasons:  inconsistent management of injuries, and the lack of performance from a lot of other players besides the sidelined Bryce Harper.  It’s odd that the clean-living LDS boy has been seen as the “savior”.  Harper had talked about working with a volunteer fire department, as public service (I wouldn’t to that), but I bet that’s out.

The Nats managed Stephen Strasburg by the book, but not his dopplegangers.  For the rest of the players it seems as though they follow the script of the Redskins – who I believe would have won that playoff game with Seattle last year had they put in Cousins immediately once RGIII was struggling with the knee near the end of the first half.  In baseball, those oblique strains have a way of lengthening into 50-game sit-outs. 
In baseball, to win you need a solid hitter in every lineup position.  It helps to have good hitting pitchers in the National League (the Nats do).   But after a couple of major injuries this year, it looked like the team picked for the World Series had a minor league presence.

As they say in the Army, “that’s the breaks”.  You don’t get to reschedule because of injuries (although home teams can play games with rainouts).   Losses due to bad luck count as much as those earned by skill.
The old Senators were like this in the 1950s.  They had their “fearsome foursome” of home run hitters, but have a couple of injuries, they were fodder for 18-game losing streaks like that horrible western trip in 1959.   When the “new Senators” came on the scene in 1961, they seemed like a minor league team.  Old Griffith Stadium’s walls were pushed back to give them a better chance.  No matter, they were 30-30 as of the night of my high school graduation.  But then they went to Boston, got swept (blowing a 7 run lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth), and never recovered.  Over time, expansion teams in the majors got up to speed more quickly.  Look at the success of the Kansas City Royals in the 1980's.

The curious thing that, despite my own incompetence in sports, I always did identify with local baseball and football teams (not basketball, soccer, or hockey, though) .  There was something instructive about it.  Your own sense of well-being was totally at the mercy of whether somebody else performed. 
I cannot do anything about whether Roger Bernadina can fill in at the bat for Bryce Harper, personally.  Yet I feel affected.  Actually, today, that’s not quite as true as it was.  I can tweet and blog, and I’ve actually gotten response from a player at least once.  So what I write maybe really does matter to the team.  Maybe I can be effective.

I do have one concrete suggestion as to managing the injuries (for all the sports teams).  Have one medical facility in the DC area with specialists who see and evaluate all injuries first.  It doesn’t make sense to have to travel 1000 miles to decide if someone needs to be on the disabled list.  (I have nothing against Pensacola, FL -- was there in 1998 to see the Brownsville AOG, but, well, it's a long trip to the sticks.)   Have the expertise lined up right here.  Hospitals love sports business, because sports teams can pay; it’s profitable.  The nearby Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington would do just fine.
The lesson on “group consciousness” and shared outcomes does speak to our concerns with “personal responsibility” as libertarians understand the concept.  In real life, when you’re on your own (as I am now), you’re really exposed to how well others do their jobs.  You’re interdependent with others whether you want to be or not.  I’’ve explored this plenty of times before (March 13, 2011 seems to be a typical post that got around.)   I’ve talked about this gently in the workplace blogs when I discuss customer service and how critical it is today.  But it also has big time security implications.
In real life, you’re also exposed to the hardships of others and particularly their indignation, even if you didn’t personally cause it or think you are very distant from it (in the sense that the NSA defines “degrees of separation”, which can be less than you think).  I found this out in a personal way at various points in my life: in Army Basic (1968), and after dabbling around with a little left-wing activism after I was on my own (1972). 
On the LGBT blog, I talked about being asked (almost ordered by confrontation) to give someone a ride Sunday as I was leaving the festival in Baltimore.  This time it was pretty “safe”, but sometimes we really do have to put ourselves in danger for others.  (What was the military draft all about when I went in 1968?)   Another person can make his or her anger or need your reality for the rest of your life.  He can force “you” to face dependency and need the attention and feeling from others than “you” may not have been able to extend yourself, if your own demand for perfection in those close to you.  Call that the “upward affiliation” problem.   The perpetrator may be brought to justice, but your own personal reality changes forever, at the will of another person.  It does not good to talk about being a “victim”; you are a casualty.  You were conscripted.  All of this went through my mind as I reviewed a detail transcript of my own time in Army Basic recently, which I’ll explain the significance of more soon.  It’s striking how “personal” the attack at the Boston Marathon was; I can think of many other scenarios that could have been more publicly catastrophic (I’ve mentioned them here before)., but this attack depended so much in person from others.
So, maybe it’s a good thing that I did “step up” on Sunday when confronted unexpectedly by need, and maybe a little risk. It's troubling that doing so for someone doesn't "mean enough" to me.  It's a problem if it has to, or if I have to mean too much to someone else if something has happened to me.  
Let’s hope that Gio Gonzalez (cleared by MLB)  gets the job done tonight, on the last game of this road trip in Philadelphia.  I have a hunch he will.  The Nationals return home Friday against the Rockies, and are owed a lot of home games.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Blogosphere speculates on connection between Internet ad business model and NSA spying; a coming catastrophe for sharing and spontaneous publishing as we know it?

There’s buzz in the blogosphere Monday that the ad industry was, at least indirectly, complicit in the government’s development of PRISM, by getting the public used to being tracked for targeted ads, by a process in many ways similar to what the NSA does (although there’s something that doesn’t add up here-  ad networks don’t need to see “pen registers” of your direct communications). 
Zero Day’s Violet Blue has a detailed story in many online sources, such as ZDNet, today, here.  
The OPA (the Online Publishers Association) has an email today speculating on whether the Snowden-PRISM-NSA scandal could be catastrophic for the ad industry – and free entry – as we know it now.  It's sort of like a weather rumor that there's going to be a derecho.  The argument is murky and not yet online (outside the email)., but there isn’t any clear course for the Obama administration to follow in developing policy for storing “metadata” on communications.  The problem is somewhat existential. It probably doesn’t hurt “you”:, but if somehow you fall into somebody’s crosshairs, even by “honest mistake”, it could prove tragic. 
The closest press release that OPA has right now is a March 2013 statement that Mozilla’s plan to block third party cookies won’t ruin the Internet, link

This is a developing discussion, and bias will change it quickly. 

Update: June 16

I didn't catch the wind of this article on p. G2, Business, Sunday, the Washington Post, at first. It is by Farhad Manjoo, "How PRISM could destroy the tech giants", link on Slate here (curiously, I can't get this to turn up on the Washington Post site).   Manjoo warns that if consumers are too angry at the tech giants and too concerned about privacy, Internet communications will tend to become balkanized and expensive (rather like financial processing today, with Medallion stamps and the like) and the easy self-promotion of the past fifteen years could come to an end.   It's very difficult to judge how it will go.  

At least "GOOG" has a healthly stock price (in the 800's) and is up a little Tuesday, 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Debate on US government's "metadata" snooping splits like thunderstorm line.

The debate is definitely splitting (rather like a storm crossing a mountain range)  on the moral legitimacy of the NSA “monitoring” of Americans’ communications by all means – land and cell phone calls, emails, and social media use supposedly whitelisted. 
The NSA says that this is more or less like the “”pen register”  kept by hand in the 19th century by the telegraph industry, even in the Carrington days.  Generally, the government can look at the manifests of “metadata” (the source and destination of communications) without warrants.  Looking at content is a totally different matter, usually requiring a warrant or court order, although the FISA courts have made this pretty easy. 
Bob Sullivan of NBC News explained all this in an essay (Big Brother may not be listening but he’s watching; why metadata snooping is legal”) recently here.   Emails are a bit of an issue;  unopened emails can be read for up to 180 days  (Stored Communications Act. here ).  

The value to the “government” of metadata snooping is a matter of topology.  The government could measure the number of “degrees of separation” between me and a known terrorist.  Say it’s 10.  That might be scary, or perhaps a coincidence.  But the number of paths with this node-count matters.  If it’s high, it could suggest that I have some dangerous social contacts.   All of this comes from graph theory in topology (especially algebraic topology) which I studied as a grad student (and got an M.A.) in the 1960s.  I think I mentioned this a few years back to an AP math class at a high school a few miles from the CIA when I was substitute teaching.  Oh, that was before Facebook had become so important, though.

Daniel J. Solove, law professor at George Washington University, has an op-ed on p B3 of the Washington Post today, “5 myths about privacy”,  link here.   Solove has authored several books on Internet issues..  (I have reviews of “The Future of Reputation on Nov. 5, 1008 and “Understanding Privacy” on Jan. 12, 2008 on my Books blog;  Solove authored “Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security” in 2011, which I should read;  I have two other critical items ahead of it in line!) 
Solove discusses his book in a series of videos about a year old from te CFP Conference, “Frontiers in Privacy and Security”.   I’ll have to check into this in more detail soon. 

Solove points point that “metadata” can really tell a government a lot about a person.  The real reason it isn’t a “threat” to most people in the mainstream is that this administration’s values do seem progressive to most people in the mainstream, especially minorities (sexual and racial).  On the other hand, people who believe that they must defend themselves “outside the system” (the gun rights and “Doomsday Prepper” crowd) may well feel uncomfortable about data collection.  For example., the government could figure out who is likely to own large caches of “illegal” weapons from metadata.  But this could be important to general security, to prevent unconventional attacks from extremists, or rampages from psychopaths. 

I can relate to Solove’s point as a gay man who grew up in the 50's.  Remember how, in his book “Conduct Unbecoming”, journalist Randy Shilts related that in some cases people were thrown out of the military for merely “associating with homosexuals”?  I grew up in a world (especially the Korea to Vietnam era, encompassing the Cuban Missile Crisis) when “associations” could make one appear as a potentially “Communist” or possibly merely disruptive social subversive.  I don’t fear that now personally from the government (in the post-DADT era).  But I see Solove’s point.
There’s another idea.  Anyone who stands out and who is socially isolated can be vulnerable (or be seen as vulnerable) to making enemies, but not so much by government itself but by other indignant elements in society.  Hacking, after all, often means private “surveillance” by possible stalkers or hostile people.  In a worst case scenario, an “enemy” can set up someone to be frame for a crime and bring on the government as an accomplice.  But the problem of “surveillance” is much bigger than just the government’s doing it.
So I do have some appreciation for the position of the NBC article.  Americans and westerners do face unconventional threats.  The Boston Marathon attacks were unusually in the personal way gruesome injuries were inflicted on a small number of people, conscripting them into becoming visible “casualties” in someone else’s war.  But other attacks, such as EMP (electromagnetic pulse), which can be somewhat localized, could attack our infrastructure and way of life.  Dick Cheney has been reported as saying that better surveillance by the NSA should have stopped 9/11.   Metadata surveillance does improve the odds that such attacks will be intercepted.  It’s rather like pass defense in football. 

The Post Outlook section today also has a related piece by Nancy Scola, “The Big Data President; Obama Is Meta About Data”. 

There is more news Sunday night about Snowden’s “Wikileaks II” about spying on diplomats, reported so far only in the Guardian, but that’s a topic for another article.

All of this is “to be continued.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Happy Birthday" copyright ownership by Warner challenged in class action suit by filmmakers

Would you believe that you have to pay a $1500 licensing fee to use the song “Happy Birthday” in a film or show, or face a $150000  copyright suit from Warner Music Group.
However a documentary filmmaker has filed a class action suit, claiming the song is in public domain. Only in class action could the litigation proceed with reasonable cost.  Curiously, current press reports don't identify the fillmaker.  
Specific arrangements of the song would be copyrighted, but not the generic melody and words.  The song was originally called “Good Morning to You” when written by Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893.  Some complex legal technicalities  Warner/Chappell a claim of overship for 95 years from 1924.  A piano version was published in 1935.
Forbes has a story by Emma Woollacott, link here

The Social Science Research Network has a detailed paper by law professor Robert Brauneis at the George Washington University, “Copyright and the World’s Most popular Song”, abstract  here.  Brauineis recommends that copyright law needs a doctrine like “adverse possession”, which does happen in real estate.

On CNN, the "Legal Guys" hinted that the copyright may simply no longer be in effect, according to the best information, but it is still a bit unclear.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A piece of classified information blows my direction in the wind --- literally

I was in a Virginia Railway Express station today at L’Enfant Plaza – had never seen how the rails go south of Union Station.  A Naval Officer in khakis took out a briefcase, opened it, and papers blew in my direction.  I caught them in the air and returned them without looking at a word.
But it was an ironic event in the middle of a scandal.  He said, “the morning emails”.
I have probably received a couple of items that likely were classified.  Do I report them publicly? No.  On a couple of occasions I have spoken to law enforcement about material that I have received.  But the object is to prevent an incident of some kind, somewhere in the world. 
Again, on a night that severe storms approach, I can’t impress the importance of the way we take care of our infrastructure and environment.  Wealth means nothing if the world stops functioning properly, and there are people who want to see that happen. 
Take care of that power grid – from solar storms as well as aqueous ones.  It’s ridiculous that we tolerate having big vulnerable trees close to houses all the time (including neighbors').  Storms happen in nature, and old trees fall down.  That’s always been a natural cycle. 
I have one track in life.  I can’t join someone else’s cause just because things happen.  There is no way for me to be a victim, only a casualty.
And it could be a dangerous day tomorrow on the East Coast. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Music composer (Lanier) and and scientist, writes that the Internet is destroying the middle class. Problem: too much is free

Jaron Lanier (computer scientist and music composer)  has a long epistle “Fixing the Digital Economy” in the New York Times, Sunday Review, June 9, 2013.  This essay follows on to his book “You Are not a Gadget” which I reviewed (Books blog) Feb. 22, 2010).  The main reference is here and it has also appeared in Salon, article “The Internet Destroyed the Middle Class”,  link
Lanier proposes “every bit of data we provide should earn us money. That way, we can sustain a middle class.”   That seems in diametric opposition to the practice of many of us, offering “free content” hoping for recognition – or, better put--- expecting that our own personalize message will add something valid to “the debate” that is missing when it comes from the established press, or even is filtered by well-funded organizations, specific in advocacy and not making pretensions of objectivity.  This seems to be a repudiation of amateurism, which arguably is gnawing away at many traditional family-supporting careers.
Should someone be paid when his photo appears online?  Would that even be possible or enforceable?

The “free entry” paradigm and open publication did give me a second life – yet I had built up enough assets from my “real” job before that I didn’t need to be paid for it.  So people wonder why I won’t get out now and sell and hucksterize?  (I get phone-calls, let along spam, begging me to "wake up" to the need to get out and "sell" all the time.  I don’t have to.  Or I;m an introvert.  Or I am "schizoid."  But that’s not a very sustainable answer.   Actually, I do want my output to make money – but it has to be packaged in a certain way (later postings).  But I can’t be paid just to transmit “somebody else’s” message.   Ego driven?  Maybe.  But shouldn’t someone want his public work to be his? 
Of course, we can ask the question, why it is has become important to sit in the limelight. It’s a sign of not being able to set up “real world” relationships on a “real” basis first.

The New York Times also as another important story in the Sunday Business Day, “Data-driven tech industry is shaken by online privacy fears”, by David Streitfeld and Quentin Hardy, link here.   

By the way, most of Jaron Lainer's music is sold only on MP3 files on Amazon.  I'll look into it soon.  No, it's not free!

Sunday, June 09, 2013

New York Times, Washington Post hit different angles on "socialization" in the real world this Pride Sunday

A couple of Sunday morning op-eds do rotate around a deeper problem – concerns among many observers today that upper middle class young people experience less “socialization”.

One of them is “Only Children: Lonely and Selfish?”, in the New York Times June 9, Sunday Review, p. 5,  by Lauren Sandler. link here.The mom who wrote the article was an only child herself and is raising an onluy daughter.  The other side of the question is, are only children “smarter”., or better able to decide and follow their own aims?   When I grew up, a number of families had only children.  One female, a year older than me, grew up to be an English professor (but married a history professor and raised two boys).  I have a female cousin who is “only” and taught grade school for years.  And I am “only”, although my parents considered adopting a sister when I was nine (and having social issues in grade school) but never did so.  
Mark Zuckerberg, by the way, has three sisters, one of who, helps him run Facebook. 
Another article appeared in the Washington Post Outlook, “In 1961 Phyllis Richman applied to graduate school at Harvard; she received a letter asking how she would balance a career with her ‘responsibilities’ to her husband”, link (with her belated answer) here.  

Still, I recall a 1957 issue of the Ladies Home Journal (why was a teenage boy looking at this?)  with an article to this effect, “Who would you rather have a college degree, you or your husband”   That question would take on additional urgency some years later in a world with a male-only draft, Vietnam, and student deferments.    
 We thought about “moral” issues in a much more “collective” (or supposed “common good”) manner in past decades.  There were certain things that have to happen, and given the examples that people on the edge (like me) set, people might not get them done.  There’s some of that thinking likely to return today, as sustainability comes front and center, and demographics is part of it. 

To wit, for all our wonderful progress in individual rights and equality, there still comes the possibility of personal tests that we all much meet.  Sometimes we have to “step up”, and take the risk that others will have to pick up the slack from us later if we have to make sacrifices in the process.  We have to find some core emotional satisfaction in helping other people, even when we don’t all get the personal recognition for constructive, worthy cultural, artistic or otherwise notable accomplishments.   

Friday, June 07, 2013

Time for a refresher discussion of SEO (search engine optimization)

How important is SEO, search-engine optimization? 
I get a lot of emails offering SEO for a number of my blogs, and I generally ignore them.
This started to be a big topic in early 1998, as Google’s search engine in the Web 1.0 world grew rapidly.  At the time, there were a number of competing search engines (Lycos, Altavista) that were perceived as potentially as important.  Most “how-to” books then (including the “Dummies” guides) encouraged the use of meta-tags to name specific preferred search engine terms.  One of my favorite specific terms in those days was “Bill of Rights 2”. 
By midsummer 1998, it was clear that my sites were getting indexed according to content-specific search terms regardless of the user of metatags, and there seemed to be no reason to pay anyone for “optimization”.  Sounds like playing bad sport, doesn’t it!
Nerd Wallet does have a page about SEO that I’ll pass along, here. "MOZ" has a beginner's guide to SEWO here. Wordpress says it has some SEO plug-ins as explained here
One interesting suggestion is to enable Google+ on your Google account.  I find that my YouTiube videos (which are short) automatically get posted there.  Here the suggestions do discuss “guest authorship” which I discussed Tuesday.
There is a tool to check for broken links – and I must admit that I have so much it would be impossible to keep up with it.  One problem is YouTube embeds that stop working, sometimes because the user has been removed for multiple copyright complaints.  It’s a good idea to be picky about what you embed – to prefer items with many views that appear to be from legitimate content owners.
One important suggestion is to use content labels to aggregate items with some common similarity.  Blogging publishing packages use SQL (like MySQL) to aggregate postings by label and display them to the user on one page.  For example., on my Movie Reviews blog you can find all the reviews from a particular company (like Strand Releasing or Breaking Glass Pictures), or all the films that deal with “DADT” (the former “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military).  This can be very useful, and make a reviews blog more useful to some visitors than, say, imdb or Wikipedia.
Traffic is slower these days than it was a few years ago (my own traffic hit its peak during the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the Obama presidential election). The main reason for this is probably competition from social media, which is now much more aggressive in presenting “personalized” news than it was even in 2008.  It also varies considerably from one day to the next, up and down.  Often the early part of the week (Sunday night through Tuesday) is the best.  One way to improve traffic is to consider the topics presented.  An item is likely to draw more traffic over time if it (1) isn’t widely covered on the Web by other sources, especially by the biggest corporate media sites, and (2) you can add your own unique perspective to the issue, perhaps based on personal experiences. 

In my case, the DADT issue is seen as somewhat settled, and “gay marriage” has entered the mainstream of everyday news coverage.  But “filial responsibility laws”, which few people know about haven’t  (although CNN gave the topic some buzz in late May of 2012).  I cover that on my “Bill Retires “ log and wrote a Wikipedia article on the topic in March 2013.  An important national security topic that doesn’t get covered nearly enough is power grid robustness  -- especially the ability of the power grid to withstand strong solar storms and even a possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack by terrorists.  That topic generates traffic, and it’s scary that the danger is so little known in the mainstream.  It’s not a right-wing fantasy; it’s real.  In the free speech area, an important area seems to be likely challenges to the immunity from downstream liability that Section 230 provides – all of which makes this blog possible.  Still another topic is how the web would work in an environment of strict “do not track”.  

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Mobile market research company reports that social media profiles are hurting job prospects for young adults worldwide

KTNV, a fox station in Nevada, is reporting that what teenagers post online is definitely costing them summer jobs but long term employment chances in the future.  The link for the story, which as a video, is here.


I found the blog post of the supporting study by On Device Research, a company normally specializing in marketing in mobile applications.  The post  has the blunt title “Facebook costing 16-34s jobs in tough economic climate”, link here. It’s the overall impression of a “social media profile” that seems to be of concern.   The blog post gives a breakdown by country, and social media profiles seem to be a bigger issue with employers in China than in the U,S. – maybe surprising given the censorship in China.  In a world where everybody can be famous, well, most people won’t be, in a way that is legitimate or productive or can support families.  

Younger adults in media and arts fields may have an advantage, it their videos give evidence of considerable technical skill (for example in music or film editing) and they live in an areas (probably like California) where those skills are in high demand.