Sunday, August 31, 2014

When Labor Day is Sept. 1: recalling 1997, 2003 as benchmark years in my life

This particular Labor Day weekend, where September 1 is a Monday, follows the calendar of 1997, 2003, and 2008.  

In 1997, I drove from Arlington VA out to Minneapolis, where I was moving to start my corporate transfer within Reliastar.  The moving van had come on Wednesday Aug. 27, and I had spent the last three nights in Mother’s Drogheda.  I recall her waving goodbye as I pulled out of the driveway.

I recall stopping at Breezewood and calling the apartment complex I had left for some reason.  I buying a pie for an aunt at a service plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  I remember the Allegheny Mountain tunnel.  I stayed with an aunt in Oberlin the first night, hearing in an elevator (it was a senior building) Princess Di had been killed in an accident in Paris.  The second day, I drove to Chicago, stopping to buy a blazer in Indiana, and driving through a little of southern Michigan and seeing the Lake Shore near Gary.  A period of my life ended that day, officially.   I stayed in a motel in a Chicago suburb that night.  Officially, I paid for the travel part of the move because it had been motivated by avoiding the “conflict of interest” as I have explained.  Monday morning, a policeman stopped me speeding as I left, but he let me go without a ticket when he saw the book I had authored I the car.  I remember stopping for lunch in Madison, WI and finishing reading Dan Blatt’s “Calypso’s Cave”, a draft copy.  I recall a huge thunderstorm in Eau Clair.  I would stay in a Comfort inn in Roseville until the movers came to the new apartment, the Churchill, in downtown Minneapolis on Sept. 4.   September and early October would be unusually warm, even hot, for the Twin Cities that year.
In 2003, I has just moved back, after the layoff at the end of 2001, and then deciding I would have to look after Mother more closely.   I actually drove back Aug 22 (Friday) through Aug. 24, using I-68 and skipping the Turnpike. 

Those golden six years of my life would end officially on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2003 as I made a day trip from the Drogheda to Rehoboth, and actually picked up some small furniture storage items at one of the notorious outlet malls, with no sales tax.  

Forty years ago this weekend, in 1974, September 1 was a Sunday, and I had just signed a lease to move into the Cast Iron Building in New York City, from Piscataway NJ, and was going to work for NBC as a computer programmer, and live in the City.   But over the Labor Day weekened I went to Mexico City, visiting Teotihuacan on Saturday, and the Anthropology Museum Sunday, and staying in the Pink Zone.  

Wikipedia image of Teotihuacan, pretty much what I saw that weekend. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Texas supreme court issues important ruling on prior restraint

The Texas state supreme court has ruled against a practice called “prior restraint”, in a case “Kinney v. Barnes”, that the state may not normally preclude a defendant in a libel or other tort case from speaking about a plaintiff at an unspecified time in the future.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation story by David Greene is here.
My recollection is that it has been fairly common for some out-of-court settlements to be predicated on the idea that the supposed defendant will not comment on the plaintiff in the future, as a way of limiting or even avoiding monetary damages.   

The video above explains prior restraint in a bigger context.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My own "found footage" video(s)

Today, I dug out a six-minute video I had taped as a crude “selfie” in January 2012, at Keyes Gap on Route 9, going into the West Virginia Panhandle from Virginia. 

The video quality is a little grainy and certainly jerky, rather like some personal “found footage” (as if in a “Devil’s Pass”, or maybe leading to a “Blair Witch”).   I’ll get into the issue of editing and reshooting soon on one of my newer Wordpress blogs.  I have run into some issues converting my Sony iMovie videos to YouTube.

Toward the end of the video, there are about two minutes where I speak in my living room, into a Macbook webcam.

The video puts a moral problem forward in the abstract:  should someone who is “different” but individually talented (me) be expected with some special deference to the needs of the tribe or the group?   I do mention the “sustainability” issues (like climate change) and the possibility that enemies could force us to live more collectively.  I also mention the idea that sometimes people do use their freedom (of speech, particularly, or of “refusal”) to promulgate (or at least harbor) what amount to authoritarian values.   It can be a useful exercise to look at how life would remain “worth living” if a calamity (whether from nature, or from an enemy) forces us to change our own personal purposes.   That could generate another video (like this proposal).  (Oh no!)
I can bring back a time when I had started as an inpatient art NIH back in 1962, and my father would chide me as to whether I was willing to “let go of it”. 
Note: from the video thumbnails:  no I don't have a facial or neck skin rash;  that's a technical problem with the video. Looks like a horror movie!

Picture: from the grounds of the Monroe Institute, VA, south of Charlottesville, on Roberts Mountain  (Aug. 23, 2014).  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Contacting major media outlets; on sensitive issues, are they worried about "loose lips"?

I did indeed contact a major media outlet by email and Twitter Tuesday afternoon.  I discussed four major topics that I think need more coverage.  These include the stability of the power grid, filial responsibility laws, paid family leave, and downstream liability for Internet service providers.  I’ve covered these at great length in my blogs. 

I can, of course, name a number of other issues that are critical.  The power grid issue comes up both from a natural (space weather) context, as well as terrorism.   So does the possibility of pandemics.  The “dirty bomb” issue hasn’t been discussed much lately.  I do wonder if these issues are seen as “loose lips” problems by the mainstream press, as if talking about them openly will lead to more adverse consequences from bad actors because there is so little that can be done quickly, or politically. For example, in the past at least one party expressed a concern about the open discussion of filial responsibility laws;  although on the books, like sodomy laws, they tend to be ignored, but coverage of them and tight budgets might tempt states that have them to enforce them.  

I've worked for a media company as an employee once, for NBC, as a mainframe computer programmer on their accounting systems back in the 1970.  I would now want to work independently, most likely, as I have developed so much of my own content and am "retired".   

My value to a media group is the content I can bring to it, in areas not adequately covered, not in the numbers I generate with my own operations. 
Just out of curiosity, I rewatched the Today Show coverage of 9/11 as it happened in 2001.   It took several minutes (until about 8:52) for the first plane hit to be reported, and the coverage was delayed by tacky commercials.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is the "ice bucket challenge" too pushy?

Here are two opposing viewpoints on the “ice bucket challenge” as a fundraising gimmick for raise money for ALS research (link) .   Forbes has a “pro” position by Christine Gibson, link here

But for Time, Sarah Miller writes how she figured out why she hates the Ice Bucket Challenge, link here.  (Video replaced. 2016/10). 


I probably sound a bit scrooge-like, because I don’t like to be confronted by someone for a cause that I haven’t elected.   There are plenty that are on my list.   Yet, a lot of us are not as sociable or as approachable today as we were three decades ago, during the height of the AIDS crisis.   I still go to the walks every year, but I don’t see that it’s necessary to recruit people in advance for it. 

There are other examples of this sort of thing, like the “Be brave and shave” sessions at the Westover Market in the fall.   Some of these cut at previously held “psychological defenses.”   

Update: Aug. 30

The Ice Bucket Challenger has attracted other somewhat negative publicity.  Popular Belgian singer and actor Timo Descamps, living in LA, took the challenge by running into the Pacific Ocean at night and making a selfie, but encouraging the viewer to give to any charity, not just ALS.  

The Dallas Morning News, with a dose of libertarian-style conservatism, writes "Those issuing challenges are not only telling others what causes to support, but are also saying that if they don't, they must suffer a penalty" (link). 

ALS had even proposed a trademark for "ice bucket challenge" but then dropped it.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quality of comments on blogs gets sillier as more interaction moves to Facebook and Twitter

Okay, it’s time to talk about comments, again.

I do get a lot of “anonymous” comments that Blogger marks as spam, and usually I don’t open.  They don’t even appear in a moderation queue.  Generally, they make some kind of generic comment about my blog and then provide a link to a website selling relatively silly items (like diet pills and the like).  It’s all pretty harmless.  I understand the economics of spam, but it’s hard to see how anyone would order these items online.
In my Wordpress blogs (on two different sites), the same thing happens.  I haven’t gotten around to looking at the moderation queue of “” for a while, but I usually delete everything en masse as spam.  On the newer sites under Bluehost, I get them filtered by Askimet (link ).   A few get through.  I even approve a few of them, but I probably shouldn’t.  I’ve read that reputable companies and organizations tend to judge the credibility of a blog not only by its own content (originality, fact-checking, and so on) but by the quality of comments the blogger can “attract”.
I also very rarely (but very recently)  get comments attempting to flame some particular company or person.  While Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act should protect me from downstream liability, I’ll reject the comment if it is clearly made in bad faith and is just an attack.  A comment that complains about some party needs to back up its claims with some articulable facts. And a comment needs to have some relevance to the specifics of the posting.

I used to get a lot more good comments on the blogs.  Blog comments have slowed down somewhat since Facebook (in particular) has come to rule the world.  I do have my Twitter feed copied onto Facebook, and many of my tweets get reasonable comments on Facebook (as well as retweeting, replies, or favoriting).  It’s a lot more convenient now to write a detailed comment about something (like how the Washington Nationals are winning, or about “Will and Sonny” on “Days of our Lives”) on Facebook than on blogs (or even specific fan sites).   Mark Zuckerberg has changed the Comment Game (and monopolized the indirect revenue stream thereof).  Oh, and by the way, the latest episodes about Will’s own writing career bear a lot on the world of publishing – whether by self or by others (see TV blog Aug. 18, 2014).
The deterioration of blog comment quality does raise another concern.  How much do I care about my readers?  The tone of a few of the “spammy” comments, trying to flatter me as a “writer”, is disturbing;  the flatter is sarcastic, as if I don’t live in their “real world”.  The spam seems to be a desperate attempt to earn a little change in an economy that is getting increasingly polarized (the silly robocalls are another symptom), and where the idea of learning for its own sake is less cool for so much of the public.  And, yes, it’s back-to-school time. 

I’ve recently described, elsewhere, my concept of “karmic journalism”.  The major media outlets are always raising red flags about terror and other criminal or natural threats to the public, for good reason.  Some people are concerned about the psychological effect when an individual like me raises them, as if to say “I told you so”.  It suggests that the speaker is unsocialized and unusually vulnerable to having his life destroyed by enemies who are indignant over his own bad karma.  I’ve gotten that kind of reaction before from my own (now late) mother.  
Let me note also, I often get requests to review books.  One person has only so much time.  I generally don't review children's books unless the book addresses some issue of importance to me (like sexual orientation).  I generally don't review various fantasy and and sci-fi genres (or romance) unless something specific catches my eye.  Self-published is fine.  I might be more likely attentive to a genre work to be interested if the author is local or already known to me for some reason.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Radical terrorists leverage Twitter much more than other social media, but users fight back; on iPhone, goes haywire for some users (me)

James Foley’s recent execution has led to discussion of the way radicals have stepped up use of social media, especially Twitter, said to be one of the most permissive platforms, as in this story by Dave Lee in the BBC news, link. Facebook and YouTube seem to be less affected, as these companies are set up to remove content like this more easily. 
The article reports the name change (of ISIS) for social media (to IS), and the development of a phone app that, when a users invokes it, would propagate carefully worded IS propaganda to followers, in a way to evade Twitter spam filters. It is difficult for Twitter to block or remove this material. (A technical trick like this is proposed in the film “Goodbye World”, reviewed on the movies blog Aug. 21.)   Other users tried to come up with hashtag-backed schemes to replace IS content with other content supportive of Foley. 
Generally, in the West, content of this nature is seen as so brazen and unacceptable (and primitive) that no one will bother to try to decipher its ideological message.
By the way, a couple weeks ago the Twitter website on my iPhone went haywire, randomly deleting followers and "followings" when I browsed the lists.  I restored them manually on a regular PC.   I now wonder if this problem could have anything to do with their app, maybe malware associated with it.    

Update: Aug. 28 

ABC News reports on how difficult it is for Twitter to keep ISIS or similar groups from abusing the service, as there is no central control.   

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Journalists, most of all freelancers, face increasing peril reporting conflicts, even at home in the US

Journalists, especially free-lancers, are increasingly becoming targets, even in the US, according to a New York Times story by Ravi Somaiya and Christine Haughney, on p. A8 of the New York Times today, Thursday, August 21, 2014, link here.Of course, the most obvious problems are occurring with “conflict reporting” overseas in areas of unrest, most visibly ISIS-controlled areas as well as in the Israel-Palestine conflict.  The article mentions not only James Foley (with a disclaimer online that is not certain where he was executed), but also Matthew Rosenberg (New York Times) ans Jason Rezaian (the Washington Post) as in peril.  The Committee to Protect Journalists (link) has a count of 1072 journalists killed since 1972.

Overseas, radical groups no longer need journalists to publicize their causes, as most of them have become proficient at creating and distributing media themselves.  The availability of self-publishing online without gatekeeping (including social media) sometimes has attracted radical elements with violent intentions as well as legitimate protests.

But the article expressed disappointment with the treatment of journalists by Police in Ferguson, Mo, with clearly illegal arrests.  And journalists mingling anonymously with protest crowds sometimes attract anger when noticed.  Protest groups often want only their causes shown, and not their violent behavior.   And some group members resent outsiders who don’t share their sense of collective victimhood. 

There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference between how “amateurs” and contract journalists are treated.  It does seem that the big news services seem able to protect their most visible reporters overseas. 

My "cf" ("Films on Major Threats to Freedom") review blog discusses "Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty", March 3, 2009.   

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

With my aloofness, will I become a "free agent" in the Afterlife? Is it like "Cloud Atlas", or like "Imajica"?

Perhaps the most vexing situation I face, at least in retirement years, is the idea of being pressured to become involved in others personally “on their terms” rather than mine.   And there can be a great deal of coercion involved sometimes. 
I certainly have lived “A Different Life”, filled with moral ironies and twists in its many episodes, very meaningful to me.  Yet others see me as living only in my own fantasy world, oblivious to the real needs of others, or unable or unwilling to gain any satisfaction from meeting them. 
As an adult, I had more freedom.  I didn’t make the same choices as others.  Generally I kept the promises I made.  I didn’t get into trouble as much as others.   But I didn’t have as much responsibility piled on my plate and was more fortunate than others.
When you live a double life, you can generally “do what you want” as long as you don’t stumble.  That was not true a half century ago, when other made my private life their own business.   But it gradually had become so, especially during the Reagan years, after the worst of the AIDS crisis was passing.
The Internet has eliminated the double life, and changed the game as to how responsibility for others is perceived.  When you stand on a soap box and attract attention, others will challenge you, sometimes to take care of them or their dependents in ways not conceivable before, and they interpret your aloofness as hostility. 
All of this happens in a world where many people live tribal or gang-oriented lives, where individual expression and accomplishment is minimal, but where success in social competition is everything. That is the opposite of how I have lived. If competing for authority in a social hierarchy turns humiliating, it will become hard to value interacting with other "ordinary people" at all. 

In more recent years I have been confronted by certain ideas:  by having someone less intact as a "buddy", by being to somehow foster or adopt or become involved with the welfare of another, using my background particularly in life insurance in the past to raise money to support the person(s), giving up the right to speak objectively for myself in public.  In the real world of responsibility for family, people pimp each other to "sell" because they have to.  They don't pretend to be more self-sufficient than they really are.  I find this particular train of coercion very disturbing. 

I tend to resist this coercion, especially to "bond" with someone placed in front of me (as with some substitute teaching scenarios that I recall) because I don't want my own activity to make someone else's lacking "all right".  That is how I felt about. it.  I could extend my style of thinking to a somewhat conscious intent not to have children if I wasn't physically competitive (and that worries others).   And there is dark side to where this could lead if it set an example for others.
I think when coercion is applied to bond with others in ways demanded by others, a natural reaction is to want to see others have to live up to the standards of “virtue” that have been expected of “you” in the past.  It’s natural, but dangerous to liberal democracy.  Unwillingness to love when needed, and copping out, encourages a kind of society that gradually shows less respect for human life.  The end result can be one of the many examples of totalitarianism in our history (on the right or left, religious or not), where the “weak” are no longer a problem needing attention because they have been eliminated.
If you do not learn to forgive, then you will help pay for the sins of your attacker. 
I don’t think that a cookie-cutter “live happily for all eternity” in a condo in Heaven with “family” is in store for me.  I do believe in an afterlife, and that it starts with a “Core”, and that in a broader sense Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell mean something.  Physics, and the idea of entropy and its control, would suggest that consciousness, once it has expressed free will, cannot be destroyed and must take on some new kind of role in the afterlife.  Reincarnation, to improve karma, makes a lot of sense and probably happens for a lot of people, probably for me.  
The possibilities are interesting.  It’s easier to be a strong person in a weak society than the other way around – because it is so hard to love people (outside the area of fantasy) if you aren’t competitive yourself. Maybe I come back, born into poverty, but can compete better.  Maybe I live in a tribal subculture whose aims are morally suspect.  That’s the opposite of my situation now.  I have to improve my own karma.  Imagine a “Cloud Atlas” situation where I discover the blogs and writings of my past life.  
Or perhaps I (with no biological children) become a “free agent”.  I get another life on a different planet.  I have no possible contact with Earth or what I did – unless there’s a “reconciliation” (as in Clive Barker’s “Imajica”).  But maybe I live in a planet that already has contact with other planets, and the Earth becomes “reconciled” (with worm holes) in my next lifetime.   But Earth has to get through some serious challenges – which could wait until after I’m “gone baby gone”  -- like solar storms, to get to where I could find it again.   
And remember, at the end of Imajica, man defeats God, in a super Hong Kong (the First Dominion) that passes for Heaven. 

Wikipedia attribution link -- sizes of known exoplanets.  

Model of a "karma colony", maybe on Titan:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What would I bring to an "establishment press" media company? My "karmic journalism"!

I have worked solo on my books, sites and blogs since the mid 1990s, and I have indeed thought about forming an “alliance” of some sort so that my work can be more sustainable, and maybe become financially self-supporting.

I’ve said that I would not want to become a huckster for someone else’s business’s agenda (like insurance, tax avoidance, or even telecommunications deals).   I would be interested in working with other media entities however. For example, Vox Media has an approach to the news that is concentric or didactic and very much similar to mine in spirit (with several orders of magnitude more of resources).  I have always enjoyed CNN.  And back in the 1970s I was actually employed by NBC in New York City as a mainframe programmer analyst.  My career path, up to retirement, was old school IT, not news or media as such.  I do have some social media contacts with media persons in local televisions stations. 

What do I bring to a news organization?  I think there are two major areas to talk about.  I believe that I can help a media company (or plural) deal with these. 
One is that the “more established media” (including newer web-based companies) should focus more on some critical issues that, to put it simply, have the potential to have major impacts on whether we can, as individuals or families, live our own lives (with some self-expression) the way we choose to, of course within the law as a classical liberal or even libertarian would see the law.  There are some problems that can mount an existential threat to Western way of life, beyond the obvious 9/11-style spectacle, and beyond issues that seem to be very long term, like climate change.
One of these issues is the stability of the power grid.  The threat most often mentioned in the mainstream press is cyberterror, and that matters.  But much graver threats come from the clumsy manufacturing and replacement capabilities, clearly inadequate domestically, for major pieces of power grid hardware (like large transformers).   The grid seems to be vulnerable to solar storms, and big solar storms may happen more often than we had thought, as well as to possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks by terrorists, which could be mounted from the ground with conventional devices and have a local (a few blocks or square miles) and have extremely disruptive impacts.   Media companies should investigate the capacity of electric utilities to parry threats like these much more thoroughly than they have. They should also interview manufacturers of grid equipment, at least two of whom are located I the Virginia Piedmont or Shenandoah Valley.
Another issue is filial responsibility laws.  I covered these on my “retirement blog” in July 2007, gaining some attention.  I’ve posted an article on it on Wikipedia.  AARP used to cover it and took down a by-state map, as if keeping it up might lead to more enforcement.  The issue flared up in May 2012 with a bizarre lawsuit in Pennsylvania.  The topic certainly bears on eldercare, “family values”, lower birthrates, and changing demographics.
There are other issues that I encounter, with some personal bearing, that deserve more cover.  One might be the issue of mandatory paid family leave (especially paternity and maternity).  How does it work in Euorpe?  Do the childless wind up subsidizing other people’s children in the workplace? If so, is that a good and necessary thing?
One other big issue, that bears on the modern model for free speech and unmoderated self-broadcast (without gatekeepers) keeps coming back:  downstream liability for Internet companies for user content.  That plays out differently for various areas:  the DMCA for copyright (and the battle over SOPA), and Section 230 for libel and for cyberbullying. 
On many areas, the current media companies do a very objective and thorough job.  One of these is the network neutrality debate, which tends to become duplicitous.  Another is copyright and patent trolling.  (Trademark for me is trickier;  I’ll come back to that.)  In the social liberty issues, it would be difficult for me to add anything to establishment coverage of same-sex marriage.   “Gays in the military” – the issue that started me out in blogger journalism – might not be as dead or settled as we think, however.
What would I bring to the table of a media company?  Not the conventional 40 years in legacy news business, and I didn’t even “pay my dues” by tramping in “parts unknown”.   My own life story is filled with moral ironies that generated my stake in many of these issues.   It is indeed “A Different Life” (as if that could become an indie movie title).  I worked largely as an individual contributor in I.T., and didn’t have to become skilled at manipulating people to buy things or to submit to authority.  I could afford to remain personally somewhat aloof, even schizoid.  But it's important to understand why, in past generations at least, people made "my 'private' life" their business.  Sexual orientation, as an issue, became a proxy for something much bigger and hard to qualify -- something having to do with social capital and perhaps power.  
But over almost 20 years I amassed a huge library of content, revolving around some of these core issues the way air rotates around low-pressure centers on a weather map – as the storms move.  I deployed the content myself, through very simple technologies.  It is true that I have multiple sites and blogs, set up in different formats at different times with different technologies and circumstances.   It isn’t practical for me to integrate them all quickly, and with search engines working the way they do, it there is not a lot of incentive to clean out the older content.
I would call my setup “karmaic journalism” (more precise than “karmic journalism”), having several characteristics:  It is simple and maintained at low cost by few people with no bureaucracy; it thoroughly airs opposing viewpoints on sensitive issues;  it centers around topics that bear on the tension between “individual sovereignty” and social stability and sustainability.   And it stays up, all the time.  Politicians gradually they can’t get away with one-sided tribalism if they know that “I” am always there, to be found easily on search engines, social media or even by word-of-mouth   It doesn’t need large numbers and it doesn’t have to make money on its own. Or does it, eventually?

I could call my process "journalistic auditing", as if I were borrowing a buzzword from Scientology. 

Of course, that becomes a novel ethical rub, to have a disproportionate, asymmetric influence on policy outcomes without having “my own skin” in the game in a personal way (like by having or taking responsibility for children).   That has led to people approaching me, to play ball in their games, in ways that in the past would have been unthinkable, as I have covered in previous postings.  You don’t always enjoy home field advantage, that last at-bat, that chance to walk off. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Is "writer's block" real?

Here’s an “opinionator” piece in the New York Times Saturday morning on “writer’s block” by Rachel Shteir, link.

Philip Roth and Alice Munro “put down their pens” as if they had been ploughshares.   Not having a best seller, remaining a mid-list author?  

Writer’s block occurs when you have to write what other people want, very much a recommendation of the past in rags like “Writer’s Digest”.  There’s a current film on the problem “About Alex” (reviewed on Movie’s blog Aug. 13).  

And in a recent bedroom scene between Will and Sonny in NBC’s “Days of our Lives”, Sonny (whose externals keep changing) calls Will “writer” after Will gets published by writing about family scandal.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Twitter, Facebook ponder how to handle offensive content; new app would allow auto blocking of low-follower Twitter users; more from EFF on TPP

Electronic Frontier Foundation is advising (in a story by Jeremy Malcolm and Maira Sutton) everyone that the United States is insisting on a “no certification” policy as part of the trans-Pacific partnership obligations, giving the US the right to “vet” another country’s rules before its own obligations are in force, story here.  The is a “No Certification” website. There is a concern that big legacy business interests could wind up forcing terms that heavily punish ISP’s for not taking down alleged piracy. 

Hayley Tsukayama has a detailed story on the problem of hate speech in social media, and the difficulties that companies have in drawing the line.  The article was partly motivated by run of offensive tweets sent to Zelda Williams about the death of her father (actor Robin Williams).  The link for the story is here. Again, legally companies are protected from liability for offensive user-generated content by Section 230. CBS also as a detailed story on the Williams family issue with social media, here

Many people now only allow approved followers to see their "private life" accounts, whereas celebrities and professionals generally allow their accounts to be open to all (except known obvious abusers).  Double lives are ever more difficult.  
There is an app in beta testing called “Block Together”, by Jacob Andrews-Hoffman (formerly with EFF) which would allow users to block new Twitter users, or users with fewer than a given number of followers, or allow sharing of block lists, link here. It’s unclear what the minimum number of followers should be, or why that count is important, because follower counts tend to get inflated by spammers.  

Update:  later Friday

The New York Times, in an article by Farhad Manjoo, explores the topic of deliberate incivility by "trolls", as the recent incident involving Robin Williams's death shows.  Trolls might try to drive people, especially celebrities,  off the web for sport. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Two reporters briefly arrested in Ferguson, MO, at McDonalds for covering police activity

Brian Stelter of CNN reports that two reporters were arrested in a McDonalds while covering unrest in Ferguson, MO, near St. Louis.  They were Wesley Lowery, of the Washington Post, and J, Reilly of the Huffington Post.

The reporters were later “unarrested”. 

This incident speaks to the issue of journalists (whether from the “establishment” press) or even amateur bloggers to photograph and cover police activity. But there was some confusion as to how the fast food restaurant was closed, whether improperly by police against management's wishes.  
The police also ordered "Stop videotaping. We're down to 45 seconds.  Let's go."  
Picture: Missouri Ozarks, 1980s, estate picture.  

Update: Aug. 17

Vox Media reports that a police threatened to shoot a reporter for videotaping a Ferguson protest!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A smart phone app "BuyPartisan" tries to inform retail consumers of a company's employees' politics

Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz have a column on the Washington Post Fed Page (Wednesday, August 13, 2014), “Want to mix politics and shopping? There’s an app for that. The online title starts “Want to stop enriching people whose politics you hate?”  There’s actually a smart phone app, “BuyPartisan,” built by Matthew Colbert, that will tell the consumer which political party the directors and even employees of a company support. The best link I could find for it was here, on iTunes, from "Spend Consciously". 
I don’t know how the app could get much of a read on how employees vote or give.  It’s true that many companies (and particularly labor unions) have PACS that sometimes try to compel partisan behavior, but I’ve always ignored them.   

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Plans for producing a novel, a piano sonata, documentary video, and a screenplay.

I'm getting near a checkpoint for my own work. Soon I should be contacting more parties with whom I would like to work, both with regard to my own content, and volunteering.

Right now, I'm completing the upgrading of the "Windows" part of my setup to Windows 8.1, with all the latest updates.

Here are the biggest priorities:

(1): Prepare the novel manuscript "Angel's Brothers" for professional editing. The current 27 chapters will probably be broken down to 32. Characters and plot points will be carefully tracked on a database. The advantage of this emphasis is that it doesn't require any other resources.  Estimated time: 96 hours (over three months).

(2): Prepare a "Do Ask, Do Tell" video (one hour, possibly segmented) that does not presume that the viewer has read any of my three DADT books. Sony has a high-end package called Vegas for Windows but requires a 64-bit processor (which I have).  It would be a toss-up as to how it compares to Final Cut Prto. Back ten years ago in Minneapolis, IFPMSP offered courses in both Windows and Mac video editing, but most video artists seem to much prefer the Mac. Time: 120 hours, 4 months

(3) Prepare several short extracts from my Third Sonata for possible professional performance (include the "Polytonal Prelude").  The upgrade my MacBook OS and Sibelius to the latest versions (this will require some assistance from a nearby Apple Store).  Finally, set up and make a modern recording of my Third Sonata. Time: 80 hours, two months

(4) Prepare a spec script for "Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted".  Identify each scene clearly with a code that indicates which of the three "reality layers" applies.  Make separate documents to identify each character, and make a database to number the scenes within each layer, and the characters in each scene.  Applicable directions on how to make a shooting script are here,  Does the film fit the "Three Act Structure" with two reversal points? (link).

I like the idea of the "five plot points" which I think AP English teachers should show to their students (especially on days they use subs). It's pretty obvious what the homework or exam question would be.

In my case, I have the three layers of separated realities,and each segment should have its own plot structure. But it's true that in the "real layer", the paradigm applies. Bill's first "change" or "reversal" occurs when he has been abducted somehow, although he doesn't know if he is on a space colony or in the aferlife, or will ever return home, or whether home would be worth returning to if he could.  There is a "point of recognition" in how a "time barrier" is traversed  and later on what is required of him and everyone else.

The same structure could be applied to a novel, if it is a fit for a movie.  If a novel fits a television series and is episodic, then there is an overall structure, and each episode has its own structure.  There's more about this at Scriptlab, link here.

I've outlined these points in Wordpress as my "Strategic Plan Track" here, and also here.

As I lay all this out, the NBC Today show laments how we are more comfortable with technology (and relating to people at a distance) than to dealing with people up close.  And E.J. Dionne, liberal columnist for the Washington Post writes about the vanishing "middle ring" relationships with neighbors as discussed in Marc J. Dunkelman's "The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of the American Community" (Norton), which seems to be another treaties on eusociality. Charles Murray has his company. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Monkey in Indonesia takes selfie, and Wikipedia says this puts it in public domain, in response to takedown notice from British wildlife photographer Slater

A British wildlife photographer, Daniel Slater, sent requests (and apparent cease and desist letters) to Wikipedia to stop distributing a “selfie” of a macaque monkey in Indonesia on its site.  Wikipedia claims that the animal owns the right to his  own photo because the animal pressed the shutter. 
The Telegraph has a story on the matter here. The Guardian has a tongue-in-cheek account here

Slater argues that he set up the shots and machinery.  But by the same logic, a photoshop might own the shots made in its facility.

Can an animal own rights?  Would it matter if it was a domestic animal (owned in an estate)?  In the film “Duma” (2005), a cheetah kept as a pet in a home on a South African ranch learns to operate a DVD player and probably could operate a camera.

Another interesting question could be, does it matter if the animal is capable of recognizing its own face?  Dolphins (and orcas), elephants, chimpanzees, and some other primates can do this.  What’s clear is that animals – most mammals (carnivores and primates, wild or tame) and even some birds (crows) know a lot more (about us) than we realize.
The Wikipedia question could be important for another reason.  Most pictures on Wikipedia can be used in blogs without permission as long as attribution is given – they generally have commons licenses;  some are in public domain.   We wouldn’t want bloggers or other websites that used a picture like this to get into legal trouble (possibly with a copyright troll).   My own feeling is that an animal selfie should be viewed as in the public domain.
A Seattle filmmaker put a tiny camera on a cat’s collar and made a video of the cat’s wandering.  Could the cat be said to own the video (or would it be in public domain)? 

Does American, British, or Indonesian law apply? 

The link to the disputed selfie is here

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A few school districts are hiring a social media monitoring service to monitor students off campus

Several public school systems are using a social media monitoring service from Social Sentinel of students in middle and high schools for specific keywords or phrases in their content, when the content is threatening or inappropriate.  Apparently the monitoring will happen only for content that is in public mode (not restricted to friends). But it will apply to content generated from off-campus locations, like at home. 

The Herald Mail in Hagerstown, MD has a story here

The monitoring probably would not apply to flat sites (not social media accounts) owned by students or teachers.  It would be interesting to know if it applies to Blogger and Wordpress, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. 
I would wonder if students are forced to disclose their social media accounts when registering at school.
Smoky Mountain High School in Jackson County, NC is also using the service.  It is likely we will hear about more school districts using it.
I don’t think the service would have prevented the incident I had (described here July 27, 2007).  

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Hotel specializing in wedding parties (in New York State) tries to ban negative reviews by contract

A hotel in New York State – the Union Street Guest House in Hudson – tried to impose fines on parties that make reservations for multiple people, if any guest in a party wrote a negative review of the hotel on any website.  The hotel has been popular especially for wedding parties.  The “fine” was to be $500.   It’s not very clear how it could have been enforced.  Ars Technica has a story by Lee Hutchinson here.  The hotel apparently backpedaled on its Facbook page and claimed that the policy had been “tongue in cheek”. 
CNET has a similar story by Amanda Kooser, link here.

Articles point out that businesses have to play the review game whether they want to or not, as even one or two bad reviews in some cases drive away business.  I often get emails from Angie’s List on specials or to review things (in one case, I didn’t use the particular lawn service and had to remind them that I hadn’t).  

Monday, August 04, 2014

Revenge porn problem is colliding with Section 230, as is mid-East conflict

Over the years, the “conservative” DC area newspaper “The Washington Times” (I am always reminded of the San Jose Mercury News and maybe even the New York Daily News) has covered tricky free speech and liability issues (back to a famous editorial in October, 2005, “Suffocating the First Amendment) tirelessly, and today, Monday, Aug. 4, Meghan Drake reports “Woman sues Facebook for ex’s ‘revenge porn’ posting”, link here. The article explains the limitations on the woman’s response because of Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (a portion of which was the “Communications Decency Act” struck down in 1997, about the time I published my own first book and soon started putting it online). 
The case involves a lawsuit against Facebook by Meryem Ali regarding its apparently sluggish response to removing an “imposter site” put up by an “ex-friend” Adeel Shah Khan. 
It is certainly correct to say that Facebook’s own TOS would prohibit imposter sites (or intentional humiliation of others), but Section 230 would limit its legal downstream liability. The article gets into little known breach of contract provisions associated with Section 230, apparently as explained by Georgetown Law Professor Rebecca Tushnet.  I don’t see how the points about IIED (intentional infliction of emotional distress) could be relevant, because a service provider couldn’t knowingly be party to it.
There is a “Pop Quiz” on p. 29 of the Education Life insert in the New York Times Sunday Aug. 3, where Susan Crawford, professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University answers a hypothetical case where it takes Facbook two weeks to remove a libelous post or fake profile and says that Section 230 will protect Facebook.  The relevant case is Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 2014.  The Federal Circuit dismissed an appeal of this case in June 2014 (link).  The original opinion was issued in December 2012 here.

In fact, the practicalities of the Klayman case are disturbing, as discussed in Techcruch by Robin Walters in April 2011, here. Apparently the posting had dealt with a call for a third intifada against Israel’s (Jewish) population. Given what’s going on with Israel and Hamas now, it seems like a sensitive issue to bring up.  But it popped up in researching Crawford’s little piece (not yet online).     

Post Script:

I put the Washington Times link on Twitter, which forwarded to Facebook.  On Facebook, the story headline and illustration got replaced by a "403 Forbidden".  TWT apparently doesn't allow social media or Facebook to embed its logos and stories.  But the link itself still works from Facebook. It seems rather silly on the part of TWT.