Thursday, February 27, 2014

"The Measure of Love": the roles of emotion, complementarity, service, just giving back (completing the moral trilogy)

Rev. Deborah Cochran filled out the trilogy of sermons Sunday (February 23, 2014) with “The Measure of Love” and indeed she did pick the remaining “Beatitudes Paradox” passage, Matthew 5:38-48 as a text, as I had mentioned on a posting on Feb. 18.
But she pinned these passages to the topic of “Love” rather than “Morality”.   And she also said that “Love” wasn’t about “emotion” as people usually experience it, but about the proper implementation of its opposite, Power. 

Now all of this certainly rings an intellectual bell.  After all “Love and Power” corresponded to the feminine and masculine personality polarities of psychological mating in the philosophy of Paul Rosenfels, as I have often written about. 
It is often said that “Love is something you do, not something you feel”.  Don Eastman used to preach that at MCC Dallas back in the 1980s. 
Even so, it has to own a connection to emotion.  I am constantly impressed by the way many people try to get my attention with emotional appeals or overly personalized communications.   As I noted, I am seen as aloof.  I don’t like to be recruited or solicited (particularly with manipulative and “emotive” appeals, sometimes demanding joining the direct experience of others – fasting is an example), and I don’t like to chase people down to buy thins for me.  I recall that debate in the Minnesota Libertarian Party back in 1998 about “winning arguments” instead of “winning converts”. 

Faith, for many people, seems to be infused with emotion.  As practiced in the church in which I was reared (FBC) it was not real evident.  As far back as the late 1940s, Richmond-raised Dr. Pruden would preach progressively about the need for racial equality and civil rights, and yet it was always in a somewhat analytical fashion.  When I was out on my own as an adult, I was surprised by the amount of emotion people brought to faith, especially when I lived in Dallas.  Along with that came proselytizing, or perhaps salesmanship. 
At one time, we were used to interacting with one another much more personally.  Typical ideas of salesmanship in business depended on that, and in recent years that has broken down. My own father made a great and stable living as a “salesman” for decades.  And some people get taken back when I don’t want to continue that sort of life strategy.
A few films make this point.  “Blood Brother” shows the intimacy with which volunteer Rocky Braat works with kids (born to HIV-infected mothers) in Africa (Movies blog, Feb. 16).  The short film “Mission in Belize” made by youth of a local church showed the hands-on and closeup “intimacy” with kids abroad (Drama blog Nov. 4, 2012).  With my upbringing and life strategy (an adaptation to not being able to “compete” in a normal way) such intimacy seems alien.  But it is a way of life for many people, and often necessary.  And it does comport with openness to relationships that need complementarity, as well as to higher levels of social interdependence and social capital. 
President Obama announced his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative today.  It may be more tied to race than it needs to be, but it’s interesting to contemplate the ideas of service, giving back for those who start out farther behind in line and make more sacrifices, and then real involvement and emotion.
I did grow up with the idea of emotion in music.   I took that to be real “feeling”.  It’s odd how that excluded real people if they were too far below perfect.  That idea is in my “DADT III” book, which was officially published today (see entry in my Books blog).

"Love" -- perhaps the ability to "see people as people" (as my father once said) seems to replace "The Law" at some level.  It's necessary in order for any of us to overcome involuntary vulnerability.  It's necessary to have an audience that can benefit from the innovations one has made or the cultural or artistic output one has authored individually.  It seems essential as a step for permanent, long-lived intimate relationships allowing co-dependency.  That is not necessarily restricted just to traditional marriage.   

Love -- and connectedness -- seems necessary to overcome he apparent moral contradictions or at least paradoxes in the law. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Yin-Yang picture. 

Copyright law conflated with physical intimidation in "Innocence of Muslims" case; more on videotaping police from Batlimore

Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting an apparent abuse of the DMCA takedown procedure, and one which the normally wise Ninth Circuit upheld.  YouTube was told to take down a video from “The Innocence of Muslims” because there was a five-second performance by one Cindy Garcia, who says she was subjected to death threats after being tricked into the performance.  Her motive seems to have been using copyright law to get the section taken down to protect her own life (possibly family members).  This is the first time I’ve seen copyright used in connection with bullying or physical intimidation which we usually expect from political or religious extremism, authoritarian governments, or sometimes organized crime, perhaps even drug cartels.  Of course, in a practical world, many speakers can express these concerns more directly. 
Corynne McSherry’s analysis is here.
There is a distantly related story in Baltimore, MD today, where a college student was harassed by police officers for videotaping them from a cell phone while the police made an arrest, possibly improperly.  The Baltimore County police spokesperson said that there is a constitutional right to videotape as long as the photographer does not interfere with an investigation.
I personally do not photograph police activity unless there is something very compelling.  The student was Sergio Gutierrez.  The New York Daily News has a story by Stephen Rex Brown here, and television station WJLA reported it.  There was a similar case on I-95 between Baltimore and Washington about two years ago involving a motorcycle stopped by state police.   

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Social Media Outlook 2014" from Potomac Tech Wire, breakfast symposium near Tysons Corner VA this morning: notes and "minutes"

Today I attended the breakfast meeting “Social Media Outlook” as sponsored by Potomac Tech Wire and the Fairfax County Development Authority (Virginia), at the Gannett USA Today headquarters near Tysons Corner Va.

We had a snow event this morning.  I had no problems getting there, and arrived very early.  Breakfast and the start of the meeting were delayed a bit.  And I may have needed a spotter.  As I walked on the other side of the coffee serving line, the glare from the snow (at one particular angle) outside blanked out from vision a shiny gray granite stone barrier, on which I slipped, and then on some more blocks below.  I stayed on my feet and had no injury, and did not drop my smartphone or camera (the laptop was on a table).  I did not sing adlib for a YouTube video.  But the lighting of the facility created a “David Blaine magic” effect.
Paul Sherman, president of Potomac Tech Wire, started with opening remarks, and noted that most  social platforms are not tailored for marketeers.

Rohit Bhargava(“2014 Trend Report” and previously “Likeonomics”)  talked about the 7 trends in marketing.  Great trends are curated, not spotted. Focus on the idea, acceleration, and the impact.  He mentioned “desperate detox” (being able to disconnect without consequences) and a “human mode disconnect app”),”obsessive productivity” (swift key apps on touch pads); collaborative economy (like Zipcar, Couch surfing); branded utility (finding a clean bathroom), shareable humanity (emotional moments with social context), curated sensationalism(a writing technique in media companies – like Vox?), distributed expertise (for example, “Plated” for cooking and chefs, and Popexpert, Clarity)

He said that he doesn’t like cauliflower (or broccoli, like the first George Bush).
I challenged him from the audience on “curation”, saying that blog posts about specific issues that come to their main points quickly are more likely to attract (new) visitors.  I used the Section 230 issue (the attorneys general proposal) as an issue where brevity and bluntness are effective.  I do get irritated with posts that make you watch long videos or make many page requests to get their secrets unveiled. (Porter Stansberry’s posts on reserve currency, while important, are annoying in this regard.)  I think there is a real issue as to whether you should “always be selling” when informing users about serious issues (certainly not “always be closing”).     

Other panelists included Kevin Alansky (Chief Marketing Officer of Social Radar), Peter Corbett (founder and CEO of iStrategy Labs), and Leigh George, an active speaker with many trade groups, as well as the Girl Scouts and the SXSW Film Festival (in Austin TX).

The panel discussed the significance of various corporate acquisitions and new products.

I’ll summarize what they said in a series of notes (like from a college lecture).  They may not have a consistent logical thread.
By buying Whats App, Facebook guarantees its future audience, with teen audience going down.  Facebook is becoming the “holding company” of social media.  Emerging markets have only mobile, not desktop and are not so much into the web for information publishing as for social connectivity.
WhatsApp is useful in despotic countries (like Venezuela) to get information out – when Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc are shut down or blocked. (Hint: they really aren’t.)   Curiously, enterprising kids have been discovering “the real world” (especially in the arts – as I can personally vouch -- or sports) and not so into Facebook as a couple of years ago.  So Facebook needs to make acquisitions that will bring them back.
SnapChat attracts babysitters and the like and is used for intimate moments.  The NCAA uses Snapchat for recruiting. Snapchat takes people “behind the scenes” and makes them feel more “special” than ordinary social media postings do. But you have to be “outgoing” to use it that way; not everyone is.

The evolution of these products suggests a consumer interest in being able to engage people in new ways personally, rather than just publish or broadcast (the now old-school Web 1.0 idea). 

People often don’t have email addresses or  cell phone contact info for their “Facebook friends”.  That’s even more true of “telepathy friends”.  (Hints: the films “Inception” and “Avatar”).

The panelists challenged the idea of a public expectation for media, that it’s paid for by advertisers, but for me, “It’s free”.  (The “” videos about this issue came up in the informal discussions afterword – Movies blog May 13, 2013.) Companies wonder “how do we get over the idea that all content should be free?”  Maybe some advanced features on social media platforms should require paying memberships.  Google charges for extra disk space for Picasa.  I think it would be a good idea for Blogger and Wordpress to offer phone support contracts for a fee (maybe about $100 a year). 

The two biggest players in controlling the finance of the Internet will be Facebook and Google. Facebook is about “the data”.  (What about Netflix and Comcast?)

They talked about the SpongeBob page Game on Facebook.  This one I haven’t tried.   It asked for PII when you play it.

They talked about a JP Morgan financial app.

Consumer utility is a big thing, still. Example: consumers want a smartphone app that can receive and diagnose engine code problems from their autos, or home security issues. 

Twitter cards are useful.  Twitter lets you reach celebrities and “unreachable people”.  Twitter could really  charge for its services.  On Twitter people share “steak” whereas on Facebook its “sugar”.

Linked In has little value for sales people now, partly because of a clumsy user interface (in one panelist’s opinion).

Instagram was said to have a lot of stuff that Facebook will harvest some day.  People will pay “kids” with thousands for followers to promote their brands.  College kids make a living off this. 

Google+ has a high level of engagement (partly though YouTube comments), especially geeks and artists. “I don’t know anyone who uses it.” It is used for videoconferencing and Google+ pages may be useful for local businesses. Google+ posts YouTube videos and comments on YouTube to “timelines” on Google+, but this is not seen as significant for marketeers.

Pinterest attracts mostly women.

Facebook is the “mass media” and everything else is niche.

There will be a Mid-Atlantic marketing seminar April 20, link here.
I did discuss Vox Media a bit with the panelists.  I’ll post about that on my “IT Jobs” blog later today.  It looks like they are on to something, maybe sharing the advertising market from big broadcast and cable news networks.   

Monday, February 24, 2014

FCC had actually considered "monitoring" newsrooms. What about blogs?

The Federal Communications Commission proposed a newsroom monitoring plan called “Multi-Makrer Study of Critical Information Needs”, according to a commentary by the Washington Times on Monday, February 24, 2014 in The Washington Times, by Jordan Sekulow and Matthew Clark, link (website url) here.
The study would have asked station owners, managers and reporters about “news philosophy” and “target audience”.  The FCC has reportedly backtracked on these ideas now.
One wonders whether independent bloggers could have come under scrutiny, as they do in so many other countries.

This story reminds me of a controversy around 2003-2005, when pundits feared that federal circuit ruling on the scope of the Campaign Finance Reform Act (McCain-Feingold), incorporating the web and Internet, could serious interfere with “blogging as we know it”.  I’ve given a detailed account of that issue on my new “footnotes” blog (accompanying my upcoming DADT-III book) here  There’s a link there to the now notorious (and restored online) Washington Times editorial Oct. 12, 2005, “Suffocating the First Amendment”.  Imagine needing a lawyer’s approval to start a blog.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

British, US governments try to find ways to spy on web visitors to leaked classified content

The US and particularly British governments are trying to monitor visitors to sites or webpages that host leaked classified information, according to a story by Gleen Greenwald and Bryan Gallagher on “The Intercept”, link here

The British counterpart to what amounts to a combination of NSA and CIA functionality would be the GCHQ.
It’s not illegal in the US for a person without a clearance to publish classified information that falls into his lap, because of the First Amendment.  So there could sometimes be incentives to get people prosecuted in other countries.   Of course, it would be illegal to hack to obtain classified information in the first place.  How did “The Social Network” start: “Let the hacking begin.”
My posting of the embed of Bradley Chelsea Manning’s illegal video on my “cf” blog in April 2010 is still out there.  No one has complained.    

Update: Feb. 27

CNN reports about operation "Optic Nerve" from the NSA and British spy services, testing facial recognition software on random visitors to Yahoo! through their webcams;  some nudity was captured;  there was no connection to persons selected and any parameters related to meta-data indicating possible terrorist connections, or to classified material access or republication.     

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"The Measure of Morality": Baseball, Facebook, and The Manifesto

Spring training is starting in baseball down in Florida and Arizona, while fans shovel snow in much of the country.  I always say that baseball’s one flaw is that the defense can’t score (as it can in chess, let alone football).  Oh, the people on a team that we remember the most, though, are the starting pitchers. 

President Obama recently noted that if it were not for Jackie Robinson, and for Branch Rickey’s effort to bring him into Major League Baseball in 1947, he might not be president today.  Perhaps you can interpret that more than one way, but the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s might have come much later.  Even Stonewall (1969) might not have occurred then.

Branch Rickey, as dramatized in last spring’s movie “42” (Movies blog, April 12, 2013), actually challenged Jackie Robinson not to fight back if taunted by other players.  We all know the environment from our US History.  Applied here, people said that there would be fewer player and pitcher positions for white players.
Rickey had a lot to gain in the long run, even from the viewpoint of “enlightened selfishness”, Ayn Rand style.  He could make his team stronger, because African Americans could widen the pool of talent.  In fact, the Brooklyn Dodgers did very well in the late 40s and 50s, just as the Los Angeles Dodgers are usually contenders these days.  MLB would benefit from improved player talent as a whole, and higher standards of athletic performance.  To a minor extent statistically, the same argument may exist for gay players today.
Rickey also had to veer away from the socially compelling urge (on any person) to “take care of his own” or “put family first”, but today that would seem to be a foolish, narrow way of looking at one’s serving any common good.

On Sunday, February 16, 2014, Interim Preaching Minister Dr. Stan Hastey of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC gave a sermon, “The Measure of True Morality” (it’s part of a trilogy involving true faith and true love, rather like the “Paradise” movies).  I’m reminded of Clay Aiken’s “The Measure of a Man”.

The scripture readings were probing and interesting, even for a visitor mainly concerned with a libertarian and secular account of morality.  The passage Deuteronomy 30:15-20 gives instructions to the small tribes of Israelites after receiving the Ten Commandments and entering the “promised land”, counseling them to follow the laws in order to promote life, for themselves and particularly for future generations.  1 Corinthians 3:1-9 seems concerned with the idea that people need to see higher purposes than are usually apparent to them.  And the gospel was Jesus’s long passage about the law, following the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:21-32.  Included were the famous passages about adultery of the heart, as I recall from dorm days at William and Mary back in 1961.  But the passages that follow, about turning the other cheek and “giving to whoever asks” may be even more appropriate. I can remember Sunday School debates back in the 50s about "hitting back", which could turn into stepping on people's toes and fighting with fingernails, at least figuratively. 

It seems that what the Matthew passage concerns, is making “the law” contextual.  The “religious right” (in any faith) has lost sight of the point of religious teaching when it wants to interpret the law only in the context of a small tribe surviving in a hostile land in the ancient world.  But the idea that there is a connection between the “greater good”, the self, and the needs of people in circles around the self (almost as the social media world sees these circles now) is very much in play.

Whenever I focus on morality, what I am most concerned about is how the individual is to behave, with respect to balancing his or her own personal goals and interests with the apparent or perhaps just emerging needs of the common good of all the social circles around him or her: the family, the community, the country, and the world.  There has been, throughout history, a lot of conflict or tension between taking care of “one’s own” and minding the needs of much larger communities.  Modern liberalism and individualism would seem to have relieved these, but they are very apparent in other parts of the world, particularly where the standard of living is lower.  And people in other countries may, if goaded by politicians, tend to look at “us” as living off of their sacrifices.  Globalization and “world citizenship” have become catchwords.  What’s deceptive (and what socially conservative religious groups ranging from the Amish to the LDS Church know) is that “globalization” can gravely detract the individual from learning to take of others who have real needs.  The individualist sees the responsibility to support others as resulting from an adult choice: to procreate and engage in heterosexual intercourse.   But people cannot be prepared to make this choice until they have some experience in providing for others beforehand (as often learning within the extended family).  The loss of that capacity can have grave implications for a culture’s long term sustainability and future. The libertarian emphasis on personal responsibility as a driving moral principle (so well demonstrated even on "South Park") is tempered by the idea that vulnerability is inevitable, often depends on luck, and drives the need for sometimes tribal interdependence. 
This balancing act is particularly critical for those of us who are “different”.  Perhaps everyone is “different” somehow, but the ethical issues become much more double-edged for some people than others.  The questions are related to the moral issues people have imagined around sexual orientation, but not limited to them.  Like it or not, it still seems to me that one of the biggest reasons for “homophobia” is that gay people generally are less likely to wind up having children and owning a personal stake – with all the personal risking taking and sacrifice subsumed – in future generations.  When I grew up, with nuclear war around the horizon,
 I sort of thought of any capacity to have children as somewhat superfluous, or at most, very private.
The feedback that I get after seven decades of life is that sometimes people are likely to resent my self-broadcast (or the “logic” of my worldview, trying to root out and fix the inconsistencies of others) unless I’m taking on specific responsibility for others – and sharing the risk and sacrifice that others take.  I’ve called this problem, of self-instantiation outside of normal social and competitive channels of the past (monitored by gatekeepers),  “The Privilege of Being Listened to.”

The self-broadcast, for all the support or liberal culture gives an open Internet that enables the “newbie” to compete with the establishment for an audience with low barriers to entry, does come at some risk vulnerable or poor people, often in certain minority cultures.  I’ve considered here before how the downstream liability protections for service providers (Section 230, DMCA Safe Harbor) come under attack because irresponsible people can harm others on the Internet with no gatekeepers stopping them (or perhaps the harm is sometimes more indirect, like the loss of jobs in old media).

The culture of the Internet also assumes a horizontal quality to the dissemination of information.  People are to inform themselves, and others are free to inform them.  But in older cultures, people are dependent on a social structure, which has to take care of people in sometimes dangerous or hostile environments, to control what they know and therefore what they can say and disseminate.

In the years since I have become known on the web, I have encountered situations where people try to encourage me to become involved in personal situations in which, in the past, I would have been unwelcome.  My disinterest in giving others the personal attention they seek, once I have made myself “famous”, gets interpreted as hostility, rather than just minding my own business.  I am reminded that I am beholden to others for the sacrifices they might have made and that I might not have seen. 

So I get challenged with the question, could I provide for someone else, even if that meant sacrificing my own plans or my insistence on being “objective” in all my public speech.  There is an ancillary concern:  could I have a sustained “relationship” with someone else who “needs me” and who is left than perfect, and who may become the victim of some sort of misfortune himself or herself.  Sometimes this gets backed up to the complementarity (and appropriate long-lasting passion) expected in heterosexual marriage, but now it would be a fair question for same-sex marriage, too. 

There’s an idea in mathematics, “frequently” and “eventually”.  Anyone has the right to turn down any specific other for any kind of personal connection, for no reason.  But everyone, in a moral world, has a obligation to become responsive to need in this area “eventually”.  It’s rather like the “Employment at Will Problem”, where you can fire someone for no reason, but not for an illegal or discriminatory reason.  Insularity, when one has been luckier than others in need, can lead one to be watching his back.  Sometimes you just have to step up.

The person who is different lives in somewhat a quantum state.  If he does not stay in his place, so to speak, he may do harm to others who are even more disadvantaged in expected norms.  On the other hand, to protect the sensibilities of others so that they do what they should do without distraction, he faces discrimination. 

Asymmetry really does matter.  In our world, one person can have a tremendous impact on the whole world. (In ancient times, a tribe had to worry that one non-compliant person could endanger everyone in front of military enemies.)  It might be for good, or likely am ambiguous good that complicates life for some people at a disadvantage in life.  You could see Facebook this way.  You think of doing something adventurous and “selfish” as morally good when it really takes care of other people.  Branch Rickey’s actions in 1947 in baseball satisfied that idea.  The founding of Facebook, by contrast, was by an large a solitary accomplishment, done on one’s own judgment, not necessarily to provide for someone else.  Indeed, the “sharing” may be wonder, but oversharing has become a problem (forcing others to do the same), and the whole idea of “likes” or “dislikes” could be viewed as ratifying prejudices. 

The auteur is always in a position that he could need to provide for someone and find it meaningful, even if some old independence was sacrificed. He would be in a position of making something or someone all right when he would not have, on his own, chosen to do so. The willingness of people to do this, to "step up", when really needed goes a long way to settling the tensions -- and risks -- in a free society due to inevitable inequality.  But you can't have innovation without situational inequality, and attempts by politicians to force conformity to common goals or "eusociality" on individuals usually leads to corruption and an repression. It's very much a moral singularity. 
I guess if this is my own sermon, it will be hard for me to practice what I have preached.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

More about the "Happy Birthday" case, remixes, and Lawrence Lessig

Apparently Professor Lawrence Lessig is in the songwriting business, as explained, in an account of a New England protest march after the death of Aarom Swartz, titled “We all to honor our country”.  The Site “Above the Law”, a story by Joe Patrice on Jan. 22, 2014, explains the circumstances here. (See also Aug. 28.)
The actual audio is available here.
A radio station in New Jersey (WFMU) has made its own parody if the “Happy Birthday” song to get around Time Warner’s copyright claim (June 14, 2013).

An earlier book “An Army of Davids”, by Instantpundit’s  Glenn Reynolds, mentions Lessig’s involvement with the “Happy Birthday” song before 2006, in a discussion of FCC regulation, controversial now in light of an appeal’s courts net neutrality ruling. I’ll review the book soon, but that old story needs more digging. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Illinois state legislator would run afoul of Section 230 to go after revenge porn

Illinois is considering a state law that would make it a felony to extort money with revenge porn; it would also hold the website hosting service criminally liable, according to a story Jan. 30 in the Huffington Post, link here

The law is discussed by State Senator Michael Hastings, as he explains on this page.

The site says it would be a crime to host a site that charges a fee to have offending photos removed.
The obvious “problem” is that this runs afoul of Section 230.  That part of the bill would not survive a legal challenge in conflict with federal law right now.  However, the recent proposal (covered here in August, 2013) by state attorneys general to exempt state criminal law from Section 230 would jive with this proposal. 

Again, the freedom to enjoy constructive political debate from “amateurs” is jeopardized, in the long run, by the misuse by some people for criminal purposes.  Is that ultimately a reason why “social competition” is necessary?  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Freedom Works files big class action against President Obmaa, many others, over NSA spying; I may be on the radar screen now

Freedom Works president Matt Kibbe has joined Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ken Cuccinelli to file a class action lawsuit naming president Barack Obama, National Security Agency Chair Keith Alexander, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director, trying to limit government domestic spying. 
The press release from Freedom Works is here.
The text of the complaint is a pdf, here (accessed from the Constitutional Defense Fund site, equated to Freedom Works.  
There will certainly be more details soon.
Just recently, a lot of my cell conversations have gone to the Philippines, regarding work on my upcoming book.  I suppose that the NSA tracking would pick that up, just because it is overseas and unusual for me.  Does that worry me personally?  No, but I can see how it could worry the other side of the call line.  Many companies do their grunt work offshore.

And who is the biggest supporter of the new Infinity Machine, or Quantum Computing.  Besides Google (there’s a lab somewhere in the Silicon Valley, and maybe other ones in Texas, Virginia and North Carolina), it would be the National Security Agency.  That would make the whole idea of password protection and conventional encryption obsolete.  But maybe it could one day make DMCA copy protection obsolete, too.  See the latest issue of Time (it doesn’t hurt to buy print once in a while, and support some jobs).   

Think twice about paying for marketing campaigns for blogs or social media pages

I get plenty of emails about schemes to promote my site or Facebook page. 
At least one blogger and podcast operator, for Veritasium (which comprises many YouTibe channels like “Smarter Every Day”), found that he got 80,000 bogus Facebook likes when he paid for a campaign like this.  They came from click farms overseas.  Obviously, they dilute the meaning of “Likes” or the theory of “Likeonomics”. Further, the operations cover their tracks like “liking” a lot of unrelated material.
The story by Brian Fuller, in the Washington Post Switch Blog, is here

So I look askance at constant calls and emails trying to get me to “quantify” my own publishing for the bean counters.  I think that leveraging the “low degrees of separation” idea works better.  Maybe that's not playing fair! People have to make a living! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance": old style solidarity? This reminds me of Mother Jones

Today I’ll pass along that Tuesday, February 11, 2014 is “The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance”, with the master link  (website url) here.

Electronic Frontier says there are over 7000 calls so far.

This appears to be a call-in (like in activism of the 1970’s).
The script invites you to supply a phone number to connect you.
I generally do not participate in sending mass prewritten letters or calls, because I write my own letters to legislators, so participation in mass calls and write-ins would dilute what I say when I originate it. 
I did place the automated post on Twitter (which will forward to Facebook and my “Do Ask Do Tell” site) and Google+.  I then wrote an original post about something else (this time, about Shaun White at the Sochi Olympics) to underscore that I rarely send prewritten appeals, but might once in a while.
I do carry the graphic of the “Internet Defense League” on my “Do Ask, Do Tell” site, but I had to disable its embedded javascript code some time back when it started acting up and interfering with getting to the rest of the site.  I rarely post scripts on my own sites for organizations, even when very reputable, because I have a bad experience (with disruption) from doing so.

Yes, I guess I don't like to play foot soldier, even for my friends.  The solidarity game gets to be a big deal, doesn't it.  Not every singleton can stay in the limelight and get noticed for himself.  Why not step down and play buddy for someone?  I get the drift of the new invitation. 
As for the NSA issue, let’s not forget that “real enemies” (religious extremists, or those on the far Right or far Left) may be much more dangerous to the Web (and especially the power grid, for anyone following the Wall Street Journal these days) than the NSA and CIA.  

Update: Feb, 12

Brian Fung writes on the Switch Blog that is is a bigger fight than SOPA/PIPA, here

Monday, February 10, 2014

Trans-Pacific Partnership could let big media companies bully small content creators, eventually

Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning content creators about a secret “Trans-Pacific Partnership” which apparently big media companies are a party to.  It would give the White House or an administration the ability to negotiate “extreme copyright” protection in some cases, without Congressional oversight or even knowledge. The link is here.

Curiously, the Globe favors Congress’s ratifying the TPP, link (website url)  here

The US Trade Representative has its own site here

Wikileaks released the intended new TPP agreement, according to a YouTube posting from December, 2013. 

Friday, February 07, 2014

Prior restraint of speech tested by two defamation cases in Texas; recalling Minnesota's "Gag Law" against yellow journalism

One possible terror for a blogger or self-publishers could be service of some frivolous or SLAPP suit, and then an offer from the plaintiff to drop action if the blogger agrees to cease all online publication or remove various materials, like self-published books, from circulation, even if the supposed defamation is only one small narrow item. 

There was a case in 1931 called “Near v. Minnesota” in which a judge had ordered a newspaper to stop publication, but the Minnesota Gag Law allowing it was overturned by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision. A typical account of the case is here.  The issue then was something high school students learn about in history courses, “yellow journalism”.  (It could make a good item for a test question on the SOL’s).
The concept is called “prior restraint”.  What more commonly happens today is a much narrower injunction, for a defendant not to mention a particular plaintiff or particular incident again, online or in print or verbally. 
The idea of prior restraint is objectionable partly because it can chill future legitimate speech. In a practical sense, it can be used as a bullying strategy, as in a SLAPP suit.
Electronic Frontier Foundation has written (in an article by Andrew Crocker here) about two defamation cases in before the Texas Supreme Court at the state level,  Burbage v. Burbage, and Kinney v. Barnes.  In each of these cases, an apparently narrow form of prior restraining injunction has been issued. 
EFF notes in its amicus briefs that the Internet has enabled any person (like me) to become a global publisher, and that the Supreme Court has so far consistently ruled (going back to the CDA in ACLU v. Reno in 1997, and later COPA) that Internet topology (say it is “Mobius”) does not justify narrower restrictions on speech, so it should not justify prior restraint.  
It is not unusual that, with out-of-court settlements, parties are prohibited from disclosing the terms of a settlement or even other details.  Sometimes this has the practical effect of banning other people who witnessed the case (like other coworkers) from discussing the case online, even if there are genuine issues at stake (like discrimination of some kind).  

Pictures (mine): Texas Hill Country, Minnesota northern lakes near Miss. river source (2011).

Thursday, February 06, 2014

A hypothetical downstream liability trap for an author, involving online access to books

Should large amounts of printed (or Nook-Kindle) book text be available on line through regular websites? 
In effect, they often are, because of Google Book Search, and sneak preview features like Amazon’s “Look Inside”.  Furthermore, authors, particularly with personal non-fiction and with a lot of abstract or obscure content that they suspect won’t sell a lot of traditional “copies”, may choose to make their content available online for exposure, and hope to earn some revenue through “honor systems”.  In practice, this technique can often work.  It will be permissible if the author has a non-exclusive contract with the publisher (or totally self-publishes and owns his imprint).
There’s a little legal mousetrap, however, which may never have ever been triggered.  Web publishing services and ISPs have Section 230 protection (so far) but book publishers do not.  Now, Amazon would have it for a “look inside” passage.  But the original publisher, even if a different entity than the author, would not.  So a mischievous plaintiff, perhaps claiming some kind of victimization, could find the passage online and sue the publisher as well as the author, who will have signed a contractual clause indemnifying the publisher against legal defense costs.  (That clause exists for online services too but it really practically is never used, because of Section 230 and DMCA safe harbor.)  Also, a copyright infringement claim could be made against the publisher, and with a “printed“ book there is no safe harbor.  In a very few cases, book stocks have been removed or destroyed after such incidents.  However, I haven’t heard of an indemnification suit against an author by a publisher in this circumstance actually happening in real life.
A "victim troll" could look through websites or book searches and file such a suit without ever having "purchased" a copy of the media.  But of course, one can say that the party might have found the book in a public library (yes, "It's free...")  But the volume of books actually in most libraries (outside of the Library of Congress) is much smaller than what is on the web, and relatively few of those in public libraries are self-published.  Be wary of what mouse you offer a free cookie to.  It may want more than a glass of milk. (See Feb. 23, 2013).   

If it ever happens, it would be a good one for “The Legal Guys” on Saturdays on CNN.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm event a decade ago today; an unusual observation regarding "fair use" and his files

Ten years ago today, at about this time of day, a good-looking 19-year old Mark Zuckerberg hit the Enter key on his Harvard dorm computer (probably Windows XP) and created “The Facebook”, and we all know what would happen in ten years.  Suffice it to say, at age 29 Mr. Zuckerberg (and his wife, a pediatrician) is in a position to match Bill Gates in philanthropy when he chooses to.
I could say that could I have entered a time machine and been one of his roommates, we would have been good friends and I might be involved with the company today. But physics has its time-arrow, doesn’t it.
A Washington Post contributor Michael Zimmer has opined a piece “Mark Zuckerberg’s Theory of Privacy”, today, in the Style section, here.  In short, the world is a better place if all information, even quasi-personal, becomes part of a Wikipedia-like experience and is shared (which puts Mark in the same circle as Jimmy Wales, and later Aaron Swartz).  Truth is what should matter, not the ability to protect one’s tribal relatives through the wielding of social combat.

Zimmer has assembled the “Zuckerberg Files” at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Digital Commons, link here.  This is supposed to link all of Mark’s public statements.   The collection requires the user to set up an account and password and justify his or her need for access.  The reason given is compliance with the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication”, link here, from the Center for Media and Social Impact.  Although the files were all made public, it seems as though some of them were not always free or were uttered at for-pay events, so there could be real copyright questions.  I would rather just see these assembled into a book and sold on Amazon (or made available for Kindle download purchase). 
I would be particularly curious to see if Zuckerberg were influences in any way by the debate over “Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell” at the Harvard campus, which I believe would have occurred in the spring of 2003, when he was a freshman. (I’ll have to check this later;  I think one of our Supreme Court members was on campus then.)  The issue certainly could have mediate his thinking about the lack of moral integrity inherent in leading a “double life”.  To get a password, I guess I’ll have to prove that my purposes are “scholarly”.  Is wanting to know if your own previous books and web writings might have influenced one of the most important business evolutions of the past fifteen years a scholarly enough reason? (This note about Elena Kagan at Harvard in 2003-2004 is interesting, link., at Tampa Bay PolitiFact). 
The password-access (need an account) idea could be useful with distributing “free content” if you want to reduce the certain unusual future downstream liability risks, an idea I’ll get back into soon.  

Monday, February 03, 2014

In writing fiction, is it OK to always remain onstage?

I’ll be reviewing all my unpublished novel manuscripts soon, laying all the pieces of interrelated plots and putting them together as if they were a jigsaw puzzle.  They strike me now as something that could become a television series, with a multiplicity of characters and some bizarre situations and events that you find in soap operas.
I have always been “on stage” in my fiction manuscripts, and this is true in the three “fiction” pieces in my upcoming “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book.  There is certainly a lot of attention to the nature of my own fantasy material, and of right-wing-style institutions around that would try to educate “people like me”.  This all comes from a long standing background of being pressured to conform to the values of others.  It’s true that some of my nature is beyond my capacity to choose.  But it’s become apparent to me in more recent years that this is true of many other people and it affects their real needs.

More recent fiction efforts, particularly the novel manuscript “Angel’s Brothers”, have focused in telling the stories from the viewpoints of other characters, including an elderly ex-FBI agent, a fortyish history teacher (and family) moonlighting with the CIA, and a young college student with some unusual gifts – maybe “powers”.  One of the screenplays is told from the viewpoint of a journalist, cheating on a pregnant finacee who suddenly “goes up”.  Yet, even in these, I am always “in the background”.  Ultimately, my worldview comes into play and permeates the lives of other more mainstreamer-like characters.    
What would be challenging to write a story about characters and issues that have nothing to do with me personally.  I know this is expected all the time, expected in Hollywood (I could not imagine want to set up “Labor Day”, for example), but right now it is still beyond me. 
Clive Barker once wrote (in the opening of Imajica) that more than three people on state at a time makes a crowd, and that doesn't help crowdsourcing.  If I'm present, I'm definitely an observer, and forward enough (even in the Army) to affect the surrounding combat.  
The middle picture: the car really looked lavender.  

Saturday, February 01, 2014

A local party caucus demands more time from voters than a regular primary, and raises other issues

Today, Saturday February 1, 2014, I visited a party caucus for the first time, however briefly. This was the Democratic Party caucus for the Arlington County Board election.

I have worked as an “election judge” three times in the past, but this event is quite different from an election or even a primary. 

The process takes a little longer than a primary with voting machines.  You go past several stations, fill out a form, have it typed into a computer (PII, not sure how safe it is), and fill out a paper ballot.  You rank the candidates, so there can be multiple ballots.  The place was pretty crowded, and high school and middle school students were directing cars onto the mud lot.  This was held at the Kenmore Middle School, which has a new building, replacing the low-rise when I subbed there in 2005.  A new building probably helps with student behavior.

I did not stick around for multiple ballots, but many people did.

There are some interesting local issues, such as building a streetcar line on a road that is halfway between the two major Metro lines. 

Candidates were present, dressed in business suits, greeting people.
I sometimes get asked why I won’t run for office.  I actually considered running for the US Senate from the Libertarian Party in Minnesota in 2000, but a more aggressive and suitable candidate (especially on the Second Amendment issues) appeared, fortunately.  People say that only in office can you affect policy.   I say that in fact bloggers and artists affect perception and therefore policy, sometimes without having to compete with others in a no-gatekeeper environment.  That can be  a double-edge proposition, and become existential.  If the world is so corrupt that I don’t want to run through regular channels, why should I care if my writing makes a difference?  And the “umbrella nature” of my news coverage (how that came to be is another discussion) may simply be seen as baiting people into doing outrageous things with the idea that a blogger like me has to write about and draw attention to them.