Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Does the "innovation" that comes from individualism promote inequality, and is it predicated on the acceptability that some others will fail?

Sunday, on the International Issues blog, I wrote about some controversial ideas in the “Prayer of Confession” at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington.  I could say the prayer was a criticism of hyper-individualism.

To put in my own words, the prayer criticizes western culture for emphasizing individual achievement and recognition for it, as an attempt to be elevated above others, and as something that is predicated on the failure of others (or unseen sacrifice by others or exploitation of their work). A logical corollary is that everyone needs to experience service with some degree of submission of one's own self, even if that implies the need for authority (or "power") in religious, familial, social and political structures, and that such command over others be left open to possible abuse or corruption.  
I could retort, especially to the karma problem, by saying that innovation often improves the lives of many more people than the inventor, but it is true that with most “progress” there will be some “losers”.  Innovation is somewhat predicated on inequality, but is certainly a “positive sum” game.  Yet, the inequality leads to instability, and certain leads to issues with karma and willingness to accept interdependence when necessary (in religious terms, with inclination to accept that one “needs” God). Some religious groups, like the Amish, explicitly criticize too much efficiency and independence.
We could look at many examples.  Social media is certainly an innovation, and Facebook is particularly an innovation by one person, conceived at age 19.  Social media certainly has been a boon to many of us, maybe most; it has also had its downside.  Employers can use it as a measure of social conformity.  Bullies and criminals can abuse it, particularly in privacy-related areas.  While social media is valuable for democratic uprisings, it is also used to recruit disadvantaged young men for evil things.  The idea of its founder, that one should always use one’s real name, has both benefits and drawbacks.
What I did, with my “do ask do tell” books and sites was an innovation at the time it started (on the 90s).  The effect, by my “always being there” at low cost, was to “keep others honest” in conducting political debates, and to bring more critical thinking into political debates.  I created controversy by targeting “group think” (such as overuse of immutability and dilution of personal responsibility in pursuing “gay equality”) with various issues in the past (including “don’t ask, don’t tell”).  I even think that had I not “stayed up”, even with little notability as Wikipedia understands it, for now close to two decades, we might not have the DADT repeal, and we could have lost battles in Internet speech freedom.  You could conflate my characterization of my "do ask do tell" amateur journalism with "keeping them honest" or even "I told you so" as taglines. 
The downside (for my second career), though, is that I remain personally aloof, and certainly a double-edged role model at best.  In fact, the whole debate over “hyper-individualism” (as faith-based groups often see it) translates into a serious question for people “like me” who are somewhat “caught in the middle”, sitting in neutral equilibrium on a knife edge.
Indeed, others have often “knocked on my door” and distracted or disturbed me, in many different contexts, at various points in my life.  I want others to come to terms with “what they want from me.”  Likewise, though, I recognize that some things I say and do can put others on edge, and make them feel there is less point in their doing “what they should do” if I don’t have to follow suit.  Others may wonder what I would like to see happen (in view of the idea that in a democratic society like ours, every life has to be made valuable); that was particular the case when others made my homosexuality an issue.  That was particularly the case earlier in my life, with the William and Mary expulsion, and then with the period as a “patient” at NIH.  It was a little bit less so in the Army, an irony which fed how I would participate in the debate on gays in the military twenty years ago. Particularly important was the idea that anyone needs to be able to count on others, especially an intimate partner, if unavoidable bad things happen;  to see someone "on the fence" get and stay married made it look easier for everyone else. 
One "extra point" seems evident: I don’t seem to get a lot out of personal interaction with others if they have to “depend” on me in an interpersonal way.  That feeds into a “virtuous circle” that leads people into marriage, family, and providing new generations, which never seemed to mean very much to me in the past.  Is there a contradiction here?  If I want to be noticed for the content (music or writings) that I can produce, shouldn’t I “love” the consumer more?  The question can come up when others wonder why I don’t try to “sell” to others.  Actually, this characterization is a little misleading.  I do get something out of helping others if the circumstances are narrowly drawn and related to how I have already lived my life. I do have a real problem, however with joining someone else’s cause, or reporting to someone else’s bureaucracy. I do have an issue if it "really costs me something" regarding my own goals. 
I do have to ponder many changes that can occur in my life.  A short posting cannot cover them all.  But a couple of examples are important.  My book publishers wonder why I won’t aggressively push book sales, for example, by renting kiosks at events.  Of, over the past years, some companies would call asking if I would become a life insurance agent or tax preparer.  And in the charity area, some parties call and wonder if I can give their particular causes a lot of time and attention.  It’s possible to pull some of this together:  if I could “make money” as somebody’s agent, I could be in a better position to adopt others into dependence on me.  This could become a critical moral point when one considers the ramifications of the immigration and (gay) asylum issues. (So could the house that I “inherited” which could shelter a “family” or asylees, for example.)  But I can't follow these leads without ditching the "journalism" that I have already created.   
The concerns become bigger when I contemplate “really bad things” that can happen.  Given a big enough disaster or even terror attack, anyone (including me) can become homeless and “needy”.  (The myriad of possibilities, like EMP, have been covered on other postings, but each decade has created its own special dangers.)  In fact, there are some existential threats to our way of life, that can come suddenly, from both nature and indignant enemies.  It’s possible for my own life to come to an ugly end because of the violence of someone else, who may feel that “rules” don’t mean anything because “somebody like me” didn’t have to follow them (as “he” sees them).  I’ve come to realize how this can indeed lead to feelings of shame, and this helps explain some of the nihilism we see in the behavior of some people today.  It can be shameful to become a “victim”, and hence that leads to the view (feeding into terrorism) that everyone can become a “casualty”.  All of this though process, however, feeds back to the concern that we cannot afford to become smug about our own “accomplishments” or independence, as in the “prayer of confession” that I read Sunday. 

Even in my "culture war" battles with my own father ("going to the root", as I would call it) I sensed that, if I had to "respond" to everyone else in their (not my) perspective and "serve" them, I would never be able to excel at what I could be good at (which then was to be music and then academics).   There is only so much time and energy.  Of course, western values say that you have to do your own work to get recognized.  It's easier to deal with this double-challenge if you are more universally "gifted". I would be expected to join a social structure in which I would indeed feel "subservient" even if I was expected to behave like a protective male.  I had my own little private metaphors for this, like "low work" and "feeling feminine".  It's true, when people "knock" today, I don't live in their world (although I expect them to read "my work"), and the scope of their needs (and urgency) doesn't seem real to me, especially given the excess volume of entreaties, and the heavily partisan and manipulative or emotional tone of some of the begging. My father used to say, "to obey is better than to sacrifice", because he understood that for some people, sometimes, loss is absolute, no matter who "sinned". Sometimes one has to "step up", and learns so very suddenly.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So does a social network "by invitation only" (Ello) make sense for less "popular" people?

I actually hadn’t heard about Ello (link ), the “ad free social network” which is “anti-Facebook”, and which you can’t join without an invitation – until today, when I was looking at the Atlanta Constitution online, curious as to why the Atlanta Braves had tanked during the second half of the MLB season.  (Oh, yes, Jordan Zimmermann pitched his no-no to close out the Nationals victorious season today, no doubt inviting ads from the depilatory company.)  The Atlanta paper had a Newsmax story here, along side a litany of the Braves’s woes;  I found a clearer story on CNET here.   Ello is said to be in Beta still.

I don’t really have any complaints about Facbeook’s policies, but I understand how they can affect some people (more vulnerable than me in some areas) when Facebook also “rules the world” (like Vantage in mainframe computing).  I do have a problem with the idea of an “invitation only” site that could imply you have to make yourself “popular” with others before you can be invited to join and be heard.  How would this work for someone whose career and income depended on this kind of "popularity"?  Time will tell if this concept works.   

Friday, September 26, 2014

Should bloggers ever "retire"? Specialty sites face this question

Shannon Doyne has a lead-in story on the New York Times online Thursday, “Do you ever take a break from something you love?” (link ) to introduce the piece by Steven Kururz, “When blogging becomes a slog: It began as a passion, now it’s taking over their lives, Is the first generation of design bloggers getting ready to retire?” 
I have to admit, my eyes telescoped the story a bit, to the concept of “retire from blogging?”
But this was a very focused blog (and not even a mommy blog), Young House Love, by a Richmond VA couple, John and Sherry Petersik, whose blog is “Young House Love”, link.  The article suggests that it is hard to keep this up, and keep new content flowing, particularly when you have to do so much work to set up the subject matter.  The most recent posting that I see there now is Sept. 9.
The article indicates bloggers often face an “ethical” question if they try to make money (make the blog pay for itself on its own sea legs).  Accepting “sponsored content” can compromise the objectivity of the reporting.  I get a lot of requests to write guest content, or do interviews, with matters that seem frivolous, narrow, or manipulative.  I care that people really know what’s going on.  How heavy!

And just as I post this, a Facebook friend points me to an article (satire, perhaps) on Copyblogger, "How to earn $250 an hour as a freelance writer?", link here.  I thought about the character Will Horton in "Days of our Lives", but Will isn't freelance; he is an "employee" of a magazine.  But then other characters get into discussion with Will over his "power" over the lives of other people (in family) he writes about.  No, that isn't how it is.  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Incident in Georgia at GOP meeting with blogger Nydia Tisdale may be more subtle than it looks

There has occurred an incident in Dawsonville, Georgia where a woman, Nydia Tisdale (website  ), was arrested in a sequence after videotaping some tasteless remarks by Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, with a detailed news story here. Tisdale’s Tumblr blog has a lot of the stories here.

Tisdale says she had permission to shoot the video.  But she was asked to leave and refused.  NBC affiliate Channel 11 News in Atlanta has this story, link here  The station’s mantra is “holding the powerful accountable”. 
But “Peach Pundit” gives another side of the story, here leading to the Forsyth County GOP media policy, here. There seem to be two points:  the sessions occur on private property (or privately leased or controlled) which gives the management some right to control photography and videotaping (just as a bar would have).  The stated media policy seems to require that people who videotape or photograph be paid, professional members of a media organization, not independent “amateur” bloggers just with their own agendas doing it for nothing.  Interesting, and disturbing,    

Some websites pulling back from their Facebook connections because of visitor tracking

The Wall Street Journal, in the Marketplace pages, aired a big story by Reed Albergotti Wednesday, “Websites wary of Facebook tracking: Some online retailers and publishers curb flow of user information sent back to social network”, link here.  The article explains in detail both cookies and pixel tags.
It’s possible to put the Facebook “like” infrastructure on your site (and put up similar hooks for Twitter and other media).  The end result is that Facebook gets more information about your users and may target ads to them. 
I have not chosen to do this with any of my flat sites or blogs.  I have been criticized as backward in the past for my disinterest in it.  But I don’t want visitors to work about privacy this way (although my flat sites do offer server logs that can identify IP addresses of visitors – and I actually looked into these once, in late 2005, after an incident when I was substitute teaching – explained on July 27, 2007 here). 
It is possible to add pixel tags to Wordpress and Blogger blogs, but I haven't elected to do this.  

I do forward my tweets to my Facebook and to the home page of my “doaskdotell” flat site.  
My blogs (on “Blogger”) do have code associated with ad serving (as explained in the “Privacy Policy” at the bottom of the blog page).  I have generally reduced the use of third-party gadgets, which look clever, but which have been flagged a couple times by Webroot as possible security hazards. 
In the meantime, I am more concerned about finishing my content (making my music “playable” by professionals, getting my own videos made, and promoting a screenplay or two) than with retailing and advertising schemes.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Scandal over leaked photos (4chan) at the same time as terrorist recruiting could call for brakes on Internet freedom

The latest in the saga about 4chan and celebrity hacks is that the threat to Emma Watson is reported to be a hoax, in an attempt to get 4chan shuttered, CNN story link here. Tuesday, Amanda Taub had authored a piece on Vox, “The sexual threats on Emma Watson are an attack on every woman”, link here.  Indeed, the article pointed to posts and taunts from heterosexual men who believe they are entitled to “whatever they want” which sounds like the attitude in some of the Middle East.  Females are definitely much more vulnerable to this sort of thing.  Attractive young male celebrities never become targets of this sort of thing because they couldn’t work.
The Wikipedia article on 4chan as an “imageboard” and the activism it encourages makes it appear legitimate, as does the Wiki biography of founder Christopher Poole, here. McAfee, on one of my machines, warns that 4chan is a dangerous site.  

The freedom of people to post things online without the pre-screening of gatekeepers – buttressed by Section 230 and (with respect to copyright) DMCA Safe Harbor, will come under increasing scrutiny in coming days.  Court opinions (like for COPA) that helped support this capacity are getting forgotten.  The Internet has been very good for people (“like me”) who live in a certain cognitive space but don’t like direct social competition or coerced personal interactions (like in families) – and who keep their own personal skin out of the game. But that same freedom invites abuse from those who grow up really rootless in a personal sense.  Weak parenting, absent fathers, and the likelihood of being born into families that had fewer resources (as better-off people have fewer kids and wait longer to have them or avoid the parental experience altogether) lead to young people who don’t do critical thinking and who have no concept of how to fit personally into “democratic capitalism”.  They need to belong to something (Books, Martin Fowler’s work, reviewed Aug. 27), where the future of the group is more important than the individual, and where sacrifice is important.  They live in a world of “us” and “them” (less-than-human “enemies”).  This becomes a world of gangs and tribalism, and sometimes vehement religious violence as with radical Islam. It's a world that invites authoritarian rule.  We’re indeed seeing all this come together in current events in the past few weeks.  The same social media, that gave me Second Life (pun intended, perhaps), the same unsupervised technical facility that enabled the Arab Spring, too, suddenly was turned around and became the easy source for recruiting directionless young men, and as an easy repository for instructions on homemade terror. The same social media has become a tool for eroticizing the most gratuitous, personal violence.  I recall well my own mother’s concern when I was about 10 that some movies (horror and violence) were “bad for you”.  And I process the recommendations to limit the screen time for minors, not just infants but into high school (Sept. 16 posting).  
Now, there are actually brief debates on CNN (as on the Don Lemon show), should you shut something down, or leave it up and monitor it?  Do you jam the signals or just listen in?  All the sudden, the public wants to listen in to what is said on social media because the asymmetric threats could be so dire.  At the same time, Apple and other manufacturers are moving to keep encrypted private communications out of the reach of government forever, even when there are warrants.  Self-broadcast social media is all that is left for warning signs.  I suppose that the NSA could account for inflated pages request totals in my own stuff, when the requests don’t show up in regular reports.  And I’m fine with that.  Maybe they’ll learn something.
Of course, it’s not the service, it’s the user.  It’s not the gun, it’s the person firing it.
But, for me, there is no Third Act.  My own direction is what it is. To quote the teen character in “The Zero Theorem”, “I’m nobody’s tool.”

Update: Later Wednesday

Vox Media disputes the CNN story that the Emma Watson stuff was a hoax, here.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

So why do I get an unsolicited large line of credit?

I got an unsolicited “credit card” of sorts from “National Funding” (site), in the mail at my business UPS mailbox.  It offers a $100,000 line of credit for equipment leasing once activated (with a deadline).

I wonder what attracted this “offer”.  Was it the publication of my third “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in February?  It’s nice to see credit card processing offered, but I really don’t have a need to set up a separate credit card operation, and that sounds rather risky given what happened to much bigger fish like Target and Home Depot (and many smaller “free fish” too). 
But the equipment lease sounds more motivated by the existence of my screenplays and my making some detailed postings on my Wordpress blogs in the past few months.  Maybe some people think that a movie like ‘Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted” is going to happen, or maybe “Two Road Trips” (including “The Ocelot the Way He Is”), or maybe “Titanium”.  Maybe even “The Proles” from 1969.

So I could feel flattered.
It befuddles people, and probably worries them, that I keep on “publishing” without any interest at all in “the numbers game”.  But remember that’s only possible because of a permissive environment including Section 230.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Can Ayn Rand's objectivism work now? "Pay your bills" and then "Pay your dues"

Recently, I saw Part III of the movie series “Atlas Shrugged” (Movie reviews Sept. 20), and I guess I got a refresher on libertarian philosophy, personal autonomy, and absolute fidelity to personal responsibility.  These were paramount ideas when I wrote my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in 1997.  Can I remain faithful to them? Will Ayn Rand’s secular objectivism always work?
In the film, the hero John Galt defiantly promises never to serve the interest of someone other than himself against his will and free choice, and claims he will never expect anyone else to serve his interests.
One  problem with “someone like me”, with some unusual talents that tend to encourage personal self-promotion (they started with music and piano) but also some atypical liabilities (in physical competitiveness) is that I may believe I am “paying my bills” and exercising “personal responsibility”, but actually use hidden dependencies on the underpaid, sacrificial labor of others. An example is when I buy many imports made with quasi-slave “dorm labor”.   Although I did a good job of saving during my main tract IT career (through 2001), much of my asset base is “inherited”, definitely a source of scorn from the Left.
John Galt arguably had less of the hidden dependency problem because he could create much more of his own “wealth” with his own hands. 
There is, in a real world, a practical necessity to take care of other people, outside of the scope of our “choices”, especially “choosing” to engage in heterosexual intercourse and procreate children.  As people live longer and there are fewer children, many more of us are learning about the responsibilities of taking care of our parents.  But admittedly, John Galt would just build his parents a home in his Colorado Gulch, and since he is capable, doing so wouldn’t cost him anything.  It is easy for him to be generous, and he probably wants to be.  For most of us, it isn’t that easy.
The hidden dependency is serious, though.  It does feed a lot of inequality, which leads to resentment and instability.  It may lead to gross global unfairness, for example, in the way climate change can eventually affect lower income populations, who usually live on lower ground and in more precarious circumstances.  On the other hand, inequality necessarily follows from hyper-individualism, and individualism promotes innovation, which gradually raises living standards for everyone.  Without some self-interest, which has a flexible connection to the needs of others, people don't really get things done and (as in the movie or in Communist societies) things fall into disrepair and don't work. 
So, people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and many others (now like both Andraka brothers) innovate. They may not always seem as personally attentive as others, but it’s easier for them to take care of others without it really costing them anything.  In the “Smallville” series, teen Clark Kent is generous and kind in protecting others because it is easy for him to do so.  But when it does cost something, there is a real issue.

There’s another problem.  A liberal, democratic society says it has to find a place for everyone, because all human life is by definition sacred and valued.  I think we often openly violate this idea.  Look at how we handled the military draft in the 1960s, which tested the idea of “shared sacrifice” but then considered many people more expendable than others to become cannon fodder on infantry night patrols in Vietnam. In personal lives, we often take the position “he can do better than that” and view people in terms of whom they can attract. 

We’re in a world where we have a very split attitude about helping others.  We resist sales people and constant contacts by charities, because of abuse – and because we have become more “self-sufficient” and insular, a vicious cycle in a world that gets more dangerous as more people get left behind.  (Think how this feeds recruitment by radical Islam.)  At the same time, the media has never been more aggressive in pimping causes to get people actively involved in helping others, as illustrated by CNN Heroes.  And discussions about national service – Stanley McChrytal’s idea of one year from everyone 18 to 28, with the Franklin Project (Issues blog, Sept. 13, 2014), come up, and world conditions (Ebola, ISIS, etc) suggest that civilian service overseas could be more personally costly that military duty.

I could call this “pay your dues”.  There is something to the idea that if “everyone serves”, then everyone recognizes some degree of interdependence as inevitable.  That gives disadvantaged people more reason to believe that a democratic system can ‘work” for them.  That could improve stability and security. I can see this idea when I get emails from charities that ask if “can we count on you” as if they had the (bureaucratic) right to determine my own terms and service and manage my own priorities (and “hours” currency, like the world were one big intentional community). That drives me back to quoting John Galt, but I am not as capable as he is in defending my “right” to independence. 
There is a personal aspect to all of this, which gets controversial.   When someone like me sends out a message that I will remain emotionally “aloof” outside of the scope of “upward affiliation,” that suggests that it is OK for a lot of people “down the line” to be left out of meaningful relationships later in life.  People do see me as distant, inert, and non-reactive to need and interdependence (they call that “schizoid”).  If all of this is OK, then instability can increase.  Marriages work, at least in the world of social conservatism, because people see others doing it and believe that marriage is a necessity.  I become a big distraction (or detraction).  Marriage is predicated on the idea that passion and interest will survive if something happens to one of the partners, especially in service of others.  

In that regard, John Galt falls in love, in a way, with Dagny, who is not too certain she wants full commitment to his ideas.  But it is Dagny who saves him from the torture scene.  Without her, he can just become a casualty of the evil in the world like anyone else.  But for Galt, there can be no victims.  But life really can be taken away from us. 
There really is a big cognitive disconnect in our culture, and it gets divisive.  Our world has generally graduated to more libertarian ideals over the decades, as I predicted in the first  book.  The “right to privacy” has taken on a different tack from what it had 20 years ago, as public identity becomes much more open, double lives are discouraged and equality (especially in the LGBT area) is promoted.  But you have to be able to function a certain way as an individual in our society to tie into this.  It’s clear that a lot of low-income people, especially young males (often of color) do not, and become vulnerable to dogmatic, irrational ideologies that appear (to them) to create a more primitive moral baseline.  As long as too many of us remain aloof, this gets dangerous for all of us.  It’s ironic to see equality promoted in one part of the world, and aversion to physical, emotional and social cowardice in another heightened, at the same time.  I got caught in the middle. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Major media outlets and indie bloggers face ethical, maybe legal questions in covering terror

The recent news stories about sensational violence overseas and threatening statements by enemies, as well as the coverage of rampages and lone wolf activities within the US by others with various other issues (often connected to weapons and the extreme right) does re-raise an important question.  Does all this media coverage give certain parties (including overseas enemies) the attention and recruiting propaganda they crave?  Does some of it inspire copycat activities?  There’s evidence that in some cases the administration has asked the largest news organizations to go easy (“giuoco piano”) on the most sensational stories. 

There’s a secondary question when an individual blogger covers it, possibly because he or she feels its necessary to cover it just to report completely.  The blogger gets influence and public attention through the way the technology works (search engines) in ways that were not possible before the public Internet, when people had to “compete socially” in more traditional in-person ways and engage others in order to be recognized.  In the past, people needed more “skin in the game”.  Enemies and adversaries could leverage this process.

And the promotion of recruiting propaganda on the Internet has risen to new levels, and raised new concerns about the effect of the Internet on national security, just as a few years ago the Arab Spring brought great hope.  It helps explain the attitude you see in places like China.
On the Don Lemon show on CNN Tuesday night, there was even the suggestion thrown out that maybe the public Internet, or at least the capacity for UGC (user generated content) should be suspended for a while, our of national security.  (Do people like me have to “get real”?)  Well, that idea was tossed out just to be trounced.  It’s better to allow chatter and listen in than to jam it, the experts said.  After all, during WWII we were lucky enough to have Alan Turning (and then we threw him away).  

I've talked about the issue of fiction,especially self-published without obvious compensation, and the possibility that it could be seen as "enticing" to some parties here before. 
To make the point:  In the chess position above (the "giuoco pianissimo") there are reasons why masters often play "5. d3" rather than "d4".  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Apple iPhones, iPads will have encryption that can't be unlocked even with a warrant; more on cloud surveillance; more on Yelp

Craig Timberg has a startling story in the Washington Post Thursday, September 18, 2014, “Apple will no longer unlock most iPhones, iPads for police, even with search warrants”, link here. The story appears in print on the front page.  This has to do with new encryption technology on new Apple devices.

One very obvious question is how this would affect law enforcement in fighting “real” crime or intercepting domestic terrorist plots, the back side of the NSA surveillance debate.
Timberg also writes that Apple’s technology won’t interfere with police access to iCloud data. 
I’ve noted before, that I’ve wondered if police could troll cloud data for certain illegal activity, especially child pornography.  I haven’t heard that this is done, but presumably any item more than 180 days old could be viewed.  The main possibility could be to look for images with digital watermarks that match known images on the NCMEC database.  It’s hard to imagine, however, however police could make sense of much of anything else, encrypted or not.  Cloud surveillance, if it were to start, doesn’t have the mathematics behind it that tracing “networks” of cell phone calls has. 

There is also more development in the review site area.  The Ninth Circuit has ruled that Yelp is acting within the law if it allows the purchase of ads by businesses to affect ratings, even though Yelp denies the practice anway.  USA Today has a story by Jessica Guynn here. The Post today has another story on Yelp by Cecilia King on p A14, “Did adult liars get Yelp in trouble? Grown-ups give fake ageism it says of fine for poorly screening minors”, link here
I have to add that I get emails from Angie’s List for deals and to rate things all the time (I did become a member).  But I have never written a review on these services (I have on Amazon).  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A church conference center "on the beach", and a note on "individualism"

On a day trip to the Rehoboth and Bethany Beach, Delaware areas, I spotted a convention center constructed by the Disciples of Christ back in 1901 near the center of town for Bethany. This had become of interest because last Friday, at an organ recital reviewed on the “Drama blog”, I had noticed in the National City Christian Church bulletin a story about a big fund-raising drive to expand the conference center and youth facilities (like dorms).  (My parents first took me "to the beach" in 1947, and it was Bethany, which seemed quiet, "religulous".) 
That (the cheer-led fundraising) is notable because many churches and charitable organizations (and political pressure groups) do indeed organize people to join their efforts and give them priority, even sacrificially.  That is something I have never been to open to.  I, like an “unbalanced personality” (in a Rosenfels sense) insist on chosing my own goals, and I am very sensitive to how external threats of various kinds (sometimes out of personal hostility) can jeopardize these goals. 

I’m not a joiner, because I’m not very competitive socially, partly because I wasn’t good at “gender conforming activities” (perceived as essential to protect women and children in a group from hostilities).  My individualized goals started with music, which can be abstract enough to hide devious fantasies, perhaps.  They enlarged to a life of fantasy that mixed in with upward affiliation, and the way I experienced sexual orientation.  I wasn’t about meeting the bigger goals of the group.  I was “myself” before I belonged to the tribe. 
The biggest thing that comes out of feedback from others is that I don’t get much emotional satisfaction from meeting “real needs” of others, particularly at an adaptive level.  I make a lot of my own fantasy, but not out of the idea that someone actually need me at some basic (not just “creative”) level.  At the same time, I needed "them" but sometimes didn't recognize it. All of this feeds into being interested in providing a next generation and passing the torch if necessary, after sacrifices.  It also means accepting dependence on others if called upon to sacrifice for “a greater good”.  None of this was particularly OK for me.  
Democratic societies indeed need to deal with the "upward affiliation" problem (or the "he can do better than that" problem) with relationships.  Otherwise there is a dilemma, about what happens to those who are less "competitive" and who may depend "surreptitiously" on others.  Someone like me is always in a morally paradoxical position, if  I dish out what was passed to me.  Having strict rules for how people fit in, as is common with fundamentalist religion, makes dealing with the emotional demands that can come from others less demanding.  That may be one reason why fundamentalism intrudes into people's lives and demands obedience.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Canadian music professor advocates limiting Internet and digital time for kids

An article Sept. 10 in the Wall Street Journal by Canadian educator Martin Kutnowski, “Fighting the Internet Invasion of Childhood: When I heard my daughter’s screams from web deprivation, I knew I was onto something”, link here 

I can remember in the 1950s when seventh grade teachers said, “read, don’t watch television”.  Then at least one teacher assigned a specific television program. She thought that doing so was "a good thing."
It’s true, as one LTE said, that it really depends on what the kid does.  I think that both Andraka brothers used their surfing time pretty constructively from their parent’s home near Baltimore.  Kids use the Internet for legitimate homework, after all.  But most teens probably aren’t going to teach themselves advanced calculus on the web.  But just a few will.  I was a sub myself, and I saw the enormous range.

The First Lady herself said that the first family’s two daughters didn’t need to be on Facebook when they were too young.  Agreed.

The problem of the right exposure to media goes way beyond the Internet today and encompasses everything.  Pediatricians say that infants under two shouldn’t see fast-moving media images at all.  A family related to me enforces that. 

But what happens when a kid does have a particular talent, be it programming or music.  If he or she doesn’t stay at it consistently enough, he or she can miss the boat.  I think that was the case with me with piano.  That was an important idea in the WB show “Everwood”.

The world is a dangerous place, and there is a case to be made for the idea that all teens (and young adults) need to learn social flexibility and resilience, should external forces deny them their own choices in life.  Malcolm Gladwell has written about how much chance affects whether individual kids really get a chance to excel and escape the social and “real life” pressures that drag a lot of people down in a “winner take all” economy.  Social resilience has a lot to do with reducing inequality and the threat to stability that it can pose.  So professor Kutnowski’s programming of his family router to ration digital time to his kids does have real downstream significance.
I just noticed, at the end of the article, that D. Kutnowski is himself a composer and pianist.  That makes this really interesting, since for a youth to follow a career in music poses some of these questions. I’ll look up his work soon.  His ideas remind me of Jaron Lanier. No, people are not gadgets.  

Picture: the ragtag way I composed at age 18 in 1962.  But I was quite dependent then.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

A reminder on the constitutional issues with revenge porn bills

The debate on revenge porn laws continues.  Again, if there were a federal law against it, Section 230 would not necessarily apply (March 28), and a safe-harbor mechanism for service providers might be set up, paralleling the DMCA (for a different issue that copyright).  Without a safe harbor tied to specific notification about an individual item, service providers could be on the hook for all user generated content, as there is no way to know prospectively that a particular post might contain illegal revenge porn. With state laws, Section 230 would still apply, which is why states' attorneys general want to carve out (dangerous) exceptions for state laws, too.  
The Bennett and Bennett law firm has a detailed analysis, from Oct. 2013, “Are statutes criminalizing revenge porn constitutional?”  link here This is pretty longwinded but should be considered in light of weakening Section 230.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

More reflection on "the right to forgotten" -- could there exist a subtle connection to libel law

Here’s an older essay in the Stanford Law Review on “the right to be forgotten”, by Jeffrey Rosen, before this summer’s ruling by the EU court that has search engines scrambling. Link here. 

There’s another reason why this concept is troubling.  The essay refers to the theory that a person could order a website to take something down when the website had republished it.  It might not be so difficult for Facebook and Twitter, but it could matter to private blogs or sites.  I see that I talked about this on May 14 a bit.  Suppose some information about a particular person for something that happened decades ago is potentially derogatory, and a blogger reports the information by giving a hyperlink to another site that might be of at best moderate credibility (as opposed to a major news site).  The original site is slightly inaccurate.  The person sues both sites for libel.  There is some controversy over where hyperlinking is “republication” (because of the practical effect of magnifying something that would take considerable effort to root out without the Internet) or simply a bibliographic reference, as in a term paper.  The courts tend to be interpreting it as the latter, in the US, and now in Canada (Britain may be fuzzier).  The second person (the person giving the link) claims the right of “fair reporting” and says he used the link in good faith.  American courts sound likely to accept that idea, but I wonder if it could matter if the blogger is an “amateur”.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has been arguing that bloggers have the same legal rights as the press, although there are some questions as to, for example, protecting sources.  The tone of Supreme Court opinions in both the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (ironically, the source of Section 230, which stayed intact) and then COPA, the Child Online Protection Act (about which I have a separate blog), which came up twice before SCOTUS and finally was struck down on a trial on merits in 2007 in Philadelphia, bears out this general expectation. However, there are cultural arguments to the contrary, which I encounter when dealing with people myself.  If I weren’t blogging in a “concentric” fashion requiring “journalistic objectivity”, I could support individual causes or sell individual services, like a “real man” with a “family to support”.  That’s an argument, that the “new amateurism” on the Internet, which allows individuals to mimic whole companies, undermines labor markets and social capital (and the ability to accept relationships that give value to others).  But there is no law that says anything like this.   

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What I need to accomplish before the next vernal equinox (more than saying "I told you so")

I want to take another checkpoint today on my plans.

To become “successful”, I will need to produce an interrelated media in several formats.  These items include some piano music (especially a big Sonata, mostly composed in 1962), some 
 “autobiographical” and “reflective” video, at least one major screenplay (essentially a shooting script, with some annotations on a database), and one major sci-fi novel, “Angel’s Brother”.

Technically, the easiest items to make progress on quickly are the novel (which I have already started in work on the “final format) and screenplay (where I have a script but an honing in on some character and detailed plot connections before returning to the script). 

For the music and video, I may need important improvements in my MacBook environment, which might include upgrading the operating system (right now just 10.6.8 from 2008), partly because most security packages seem to require 10.7 (2010).  I may have to go from Avid Sibelius 7.0 to 7.5, partly to ease in social media interactions.  (That works on 10.6.8 but probably begrudgingly.) 

The “autobiographical” video will examine some questions about the “ethics” of my own brand of personal sovereignty, backtracking to questions like, how to live if “the system” fails, either because of natural hazards (solar storms are a good one), terrorism or targeted crime.  It also looks at how my view of “personal responsibility” has evolved since I wrote my first book, or how I would have to work if the legal environment (like on downstream liability – including Section 230 – were compromised).  It would even look at why others saw my “interests” as their business, leading to a curious paradox that helps us understand what makes some “bad actors” tick today. The work can be done in pieces, with the aid of PowerPoint pages, as well as outdoor scenery, all of which can be used to make some good introductory video with very simple digital handheld cameras with little editing.  But in time, I’ll need to learn to use FinalCut, probably in an up-to-date environment that can be secured and that can upload easily.

This is ambitious, and it’s important that all the pieces get done.  But it is like any project in the workplace, because it lends itself to time management and project planning.  The plans would require about 17 days “on the road” (about 5 nights away, mainly in Florida, where you can “go to England” and “go to Mars” at Universal and Disney in about three days with about $300 in tickets).  They would require about 3 work-months (based on 40-hour weeks) at home of text content.  Entering the music and creating the video would each take about 1 month each (assuming a 40-hour workweek). And I would like to have this body of material ready for others to work with (most of all the music) by late March of 2015 (maybe before going to Europe). 
Given all that, I do have a time problem.  For one thing, it won’t be possible to create as many blog posts as in the past, just to keep traffic refreshed.  I expect stories to continue on tech issues and legal problems (like Section 230), on operating system hangups, and on security – the things I encounter.  Probably less on issues like retirement and gay rights, as not as much is happening – until the gay marriage cases get heard by the Supreme Court.  But there could be a lot on national security, which can be risky.  One could possibly become a target merely by writing about it, although that hasn’t happened to me.  Media reviews may not be as common as I have to spend more time on creating my own.  I do take great pride in having so many films indexed and cross-referenced my own way, on Blogger and other sites.  But there may be less time for that. I may not be able to post to Blogger every day (as I have since March 2008); posting time is already split with WordPress. And I may not have entries in every blog every month, as I have since 2008.  
Time is everything right now.  When I have an appointment, that’s several hours, including travel time, with a balky Metro (which is a little better now with the Silver Line adding frequency).   Yes, it would be easier if I were in a secure modern downtown highrise apartment, rather than a house.  But it is what it is.  I “inherited” some of this and didn’t earn all of it, so there is a karma question. Since I currently work alone, the buck stops with me.  I bear the disruptions from storms, infrastructure problems, travel delays, outages, and especially inadequate customer service from vendors, which has become a serious problem in recent years a few times. I don’t have much leverage to get companies to do what they should (Oh, yes, there is Angie’s List and Yelp, I know).

On the customer service angle, I want to add a particular comment;  I simply don't have time to "beta test" new versions of products and risk instability.  So I tend to wait before going to new operating systems.  In August, I got badly burned going from Windows 8.0 to Windows 8.1 on a Toshiba laptop, which burned the mother board in the process, resulting in need for purchasing something else despite extended warranty coverage from Geek Squad.  The unit is still waiting parts, I am told.  I also don't have time to do maintenance that manufacturers could do.  Why does HP want us to create factory recovery disk when it could just include it (as Dell does, or at least did).  I don't have employees or an "IT department" with systems programmers to maintain operating systems the way corporations do.  
I also have a problem with disruptive behavior from others.  I realize that “people like me” have made life more difficult for heavily socialized people who expect to make a living (and support families) by manipulating others into buying things.  The telemarketing robocalls keep coming, and there is a certain belligerence, and desperation, to marketer behavior today.  (At least one door-to-door visitor in early 2013 made a threat, “what if you had to start over, too?”)  Imagine the insult of dedicating one’s social media presence to agenting “life insurance” or tax or financial planning.  No, if I didn’t have kids, I can’t take care of “your” life and I won’t pretend that I can.  There’s a paradox in this, in that the logical conclusion is that I don’t “care” about “you”.  But that turns out to be another deception.
I actually am interesting in working with others on certain kinds of media efforts, and have started making contacts.  Obviously, the progress on some of these would have to be confidential.  But the range of collaborations that would make sense is rather narrow.  I can’t sing up or “pimp” someone else’s cause at the cost of my own “objectivity”.  People do find me aloof and unresponsive to emotional appeals – which in recent years have become all the more gratuitous in the media.  But I have led the life I have led (a tautology).  I don’t imply others should do what I do.  I don’t set an example of how to live.  I “believe” in a sense – because science and physics really do drive me to a certain experience of “faith” and the Afterlife seems very real – but I don’t think that the sugarcoated version of “heaven” or “eternal family” can work for me.  End of life during old age is not controversial by itself – we all will leave this world because of something.  Maybe the ultimate moral hooker is something like this:  any of us can suddenly become needy or wind up in a shelter, sometimes because of what others do out of indignation or out of pure psychopathy or evil.  Any of us can wind up supporting others, regardless of whether we ever “risked” procreation personally.  If I had to do that, I can see how I would have to pimp things to feed other mouths.  The days of pride would come to an end.  

First picture: Harpers Ferry, W Va;. looking into the Maryland Heights trail. second, Richmond, VA, Third, Virginia Beach.  I have my own reasons for using these locations today

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Revisiting the Wikipedia "notability" issue

I’ve recently reread the “notability” guidelines on Wikipedia (I see that I had discussed this at length on June 27, 2007 here with respect to getting Wikipedia to cover the Paul Rosenfels Community).  In practice, to a writer on the Internet, notability is important because it means that Wikipedia can justify a separate article on the writer (beyond just a stub). 
And, yes, with three (self-published) books in my "Do Ask, Do Tell" series, I feel that I "deserve" a Wikipedia page.  If someone wants to write one, have at it.  I guess I need to pimp myself out to get one. 

I do have a very large number of search engine matches, and fair volume of hits on most of the blogs (the best seems to be with movie reviews, and with coverage of television crime stories).  And I get a lot of email, some of it spam of course, but some of it requests to review books (often self-published) and some new films.  I do get regular samples (mostly private Vimeo links) to review new films from Strand Releasing and some other indie distributors (like Breaking Glass).  I actually do most of the films.  Many of the books are too “specialized” or too “partisan” (toward one group’s special needs) for me to have time to do, and I normally don’t review children’s books except when some unusual point is to be made.  (A lot of the books seem to be sci-fi fantasies based on bizarre premises that offer the authors opportunities for plot manipulation.)

Getting others to make hits on your sites and contact you with review offers (which is a sign that “you” have some backbone “political” influence on issues over time) is a long way from what Wikipedia needs for notability. It says it needs to find commentary on your work in general media without attempts by “you” to encourage it – that is, independent news coverage.  (I wonder if the analytics (from Urchin or similar packages as with Google Abalytics) in terms of bounce rates matters to notability.) 

Self-publishing companies sometimes try to sell “review” services or sell big public relations services (sometimes costing about $20000) to increase exposure for “new” authors.  But this would seem not to “count” either.
What do you know, I found a story about me at Broadway Books, here.  And the Paul Rosenfels Community, here (an excerpt from my first book, describing my experience at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s).  
Notability does not imply moral virtue.  People who do very bad things (criminals) have Wikipedia pages just for them.  We don’t want that.  Furthermore, given the recent abuse by “ISIS”, the way social media can be abused to recruit disturbed and impressionable young men who want “glory” raises more moral questions. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Reviewing Section 230: moderation of comments, editing; also, look at hyperlinking and both libel and copyright

Since I moderate comments and sometimes have to wonder about a non-spam comment that I get that makes some kind of accusation, I’ll re-iterate some links about Section 230 (of the 1996 Telecommunications Act or “Communications Decency Act”), which to say that moderation of comments does not compromise Section 230 protection.

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s link is here. It’s important that a moderator could be liable for content that she or he adds if that new content is legally libelous. It's also a bit untested if a blogger (instead of a forum) actively solicited comments in an unbalanced matter.  Blogs with a low number of comments per post might not seem as neutral to some observers.
 “Beat Blogging” has a similar link here.  A posting by Tim Cushing in March 2014 on Section 230 reinforces this point here  and goes on to explain why Section 230 needs to survive the challenges that could come to it, most recently over the revenge porn and “involuntary porn” issues. 

A law firm correctly says that “editing comments” isn’t the same as moderating them, but then calls Section 230 instead Section 302 (a perturbation of digits?), link here

From what I see, forums and comments on blogs are treated the same, even though the practical effects on readers could differ.  

Here’s a 2010 case in Illinois involving Moline Dispatch, Gains v. Romkey, link by Eric Goldman here

There is some disagreement as to whether someone who posts a hyperlink to something containing defamation shares in the liability.  Ten years ago, some sites said that links could lead to liability.  A Forbes article suggests that usually the answer is no, or at least giving a hyperlink or reference in good faith (like a footnote in a term paper) reduces the risk. Eric Goldman explains in Forbes in a case involving Sheldon Adelson, here.  The credibility of the quotes source might matter. Poynter also added to this viewpoint in April 2014, here.  This also generally seems to be true in Canada and Britain, as evidenced by this case in British Columbia, here.   An important concept seems to be the "fair reporting" privilege.  Note that in comments, URL's often don't work directly but have to be copied by the user into a browser (like going to the library in the old days).  Whether that matters is untested, like a new gambit in a chess opening. 
There’s also some legal controversy in the (distinct) legal area of DMCA and copyright, and sites that link to infringing material, as when Reddit took down “The Fappening”, as explained in this story.)    Generally, this hasn’t been much of a problem.  Links to embedded videos don’t work if videos on YouTube are removed for infringement, but usually the linking site or blog is not disturbed.