Saturday, November 29, 2014

How much does luck and privilege bear on libertarian ideas of meritocracy? Plenty

There is an article by Elbert Ventura on p. 122 of the Fall 2014 Democracy Journal, “Self-Made I America”, link here.
The subtitle is telling. “Self-reliance is good thing – but its fetishization has created an elite oblivious to the role luck and privilege play in people’s lives.
He makes an example of Mitt Romney in his essay, and coins the words “Randian” or “Randiose” from the John Galt character of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” (which, by the way, is even mentioned in “Boys in the Band” way back in 1970). He also mentions our “libertarian age.” 
He says that Elizabeth Warren stops short when she says, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”  Warren keeps it in the range of depending on government and public infrastructure and services, like all good Democrats. But her analysis is “transactional” – and that doesn’t mean “I’m OK, you’re OK”, such a popular mantra in the 1970s.  Earlier writers about this, like David Callahan with "The Cheating Culture" (2004), while criticizing the inheritance of privilege, had kept the ethical discussions within more traditional ideas of "personal responsibility." 
Elbert talks about “the capacity to be humble in the face of success, and grateful in the face of privilege.”  He also notes, “the concomitant of self-satisfaction over one’s own achievements is smugness about others’ failures.” 

All of this puts me in a double-edged position, of seeing two worlds from the same mountaintop (which might get removed).  If I remain unwillingness to extend myself in the mode of complimentarity at some point, when it really costs something, the less lucky can reasonably get the idea that rules don’t matter.  Indignation and even rage follow.  Just look at current events.  It can get personal.  Besides Noam Chomsky, even teenagers know that now.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

"Service" and "shark tanks"

David Ignatius has an op-ed on p. A21 of the Washington Post this Black Friday (or “Brown Friday”), “The healing power of service”, or simply and bluntly “The case for national service” online, link here.  (He could call it "the equalizing power of service", as below.)  I’ve covered Stanley McChrystal’s call for national service in the 18-28 age range before, and the Franklin Project, on the Issues blog Sept. 13. 2014.  Needless to say, it could pose issues for the plans of young people in college now, including some whom I know.  The idea of some help with tuition or eliminating some student debt in return would make sense, prospectively (as part of a “service year exchange”, perhaps).  Others will say they have to get right to work, and some are already “independently employed” adults even as undergraduates if talented and industrious enough.

The idea of service has always been spotty and mixed.  The “unfairness” of the Vietnam era draft, with the system of student deferments and then the idea that better educated men were less exposed to combat, is an important theme in all of my three DADT books (especially Chapter 2 of DADT 1, and the first “fiction” piece of DADT 3).  The male-only aspect, while ruled constitutional in 1981, says something about the values my generation grew up with and that today’s more privileged young men seem unaware of.  The Iraq war effectively implemented a “back door” draft with the stop-loss provisions.  The issue was more significant in ending “don’t ask don’t tell” than most people realize. 
The willingness of medical people (Doctors Without Borders) to serve in Africa and risk their own lives with exposure to Ebola (and other diseases in the future), and deal at least with the mandatory isolation or sometimes quarantine says something to.  Overseas service in undeveloped countries will always be challenging, particularly for LGBT people because many authoritarian countries see LGBT values as culturally or religiously disruptive (to say the least).

For retired people, it pretty obviously poses questions, too.  The Peace Corps actually has taken people as old as 80. It’s easy to imagine rhetoric that gives seniors living on retirement (and on social security which some conservatives say we should means test now – as in the debt ceiling debate) “something to do”, and since I’ve already set myself up with my own goals, that can become rather threatening.

There are two components to all this in my own mind.  First, service can attract customers and be “good business”, in the thinking style of “Shark Tank”.  Many of Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” tasks were charity drives.  In this mode, one’s efforts at service would be in areas of one’s own interests and talents.  That’s why I participated in two “Chess4Charity” events (Tuesday, Nov. 25 here, and Oct. 20 on Issue blog).  Music is the other area.  I don’t know how far efforts have gotten to use music to help patients with dementia (in eldercare environments) or even autism have gotten, and whether startup companies are getting into this – I will find out.  (The film is “Alive Inside”, reviewed on the Movies Blog July 26, 2014).  Another area is whether more musicians, who may need income, would perform more at senior centers – I am somewhat familiar with how that works from the eldercare period I dealt with for my mother.  I can look into these more.

The other component, though, is about coercion.  It’s about responding to needs as they appear.  That is what I find disruptive and challenging.  But I understand where it comes from.  My mother used to have a phrase, “getting out of things”.  It is easier to do what you should in life if you believe that others will, too.  This kind of thinking sounds a but Maoist, but it has a point:  society is more stability if everybody learns to walk in the shoes of others at least sometimes, and shares the common risks (as with the military draft of the past).  One does not always get to deploy one’s  own talents, and one may wind up experiencing subservience in a bureaucracy (as I talked about Sept. 30).  Of course, one is supposed to connect into a virtuous circle that brings one into more contact with others. Retired people may be more in a position where “radical hospitality” could naturally be expected. 
Somewhere in between these poles are other ploys.  Religious groups are very good with service, but (as with the LDS two year missions) often turn this into proselytizing (or “evangelism”).  Companies that cajole people into “selling” have a point in saying that you should like people enough to want to sell to them, or have enough real responsibility for others that you really have to sell, not just pontificate. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gates Foundation will require open access to research papers it supports

The “Bill & Melinda Gates” Foundation will take a swing for open access by requiring all research that it funds to be open to the public for free with open access when published in journals.  This is what Aaron Swartz would have wanted.  The Vox story, by Susannah Locke, is here
I did not find the new policy on the Foundation website yet, link

Open access is more common in some fields (like physics, as here) than in others, especially medicine, where the bureaucracy pays big bucks for papers.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

If you're going to hold a charity bazaar, make it easier for visitors to find their own causes; a bust at Tyson's

Sunday night, I did a little experiment with “giving”.  I had played in the “Chess4Charity” event on Oct. 19 in Vienna, VA and seem that the group was going to have a presence at the “Giving Back” night at Tysons Corner Mall in northern VA Sunday night, Nov. 23.  Washington Nationals baseball player Ryan Zimmerman was to be present with the charity.
I found the concierge desk on the lower level, and indeed in a ring there was a giant chessboard set up, and a ping pong table.  But then the game turned to checkers.  I was told that the Mall did not have an index as to whether all the various charities were.  You had to walk the entire Mall to find them (which meets the self-interest of the Mall).  I never did find a table for “Chess4Charity” (link ) . I see that I covered this on the Issues blog Oct. 20). 
I had brought a chess set and old mechanical clock, and was ready to play.  So I played my MacIntosh MacBook today the “makeup game” and actually lost with White to an Albin Counter Gambit.  I’ll have to take more time and care when playing the computer (which will change defenses every game). (The computer uses the Stephen Hawking voice.)  The computer was a proxy for Ryan, whom I presume knows how to play chess as well as baseball.  (I’ve often tweeted that the Nationals and Redskins both [yes, would like a name change] should lean the game.)  OK, I lost my game to Ryan Zimmerman.  If I were a character in "South Park" I could lose a chess game to Brian Boitano, 
Some of the charities were for rather personal causes (like a last wish for a child), but one was for rescuing animals.  I showed them, on my iPhone, the link for Reid Ewing’s pet adoption cause (Facebook link) .  (See also, Feb 23, 2013 here.  Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently  (in the CNN film “Ivory Tower”) that “nothing in life is free”.  Wish Reid’s films about “what in life is free” would reappear.)

The charities were spread out among all the entrances on the lowest level.  I even looked upstairs at the Food Court, near the AMC Theaters, and spotted someone outside Friday’s familiar to me from my past life in Minneapolis.

At First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC on Sunday (followed by a catered Thanksgiving dinner) Rev. Deborah Cochrane spoke about “Inheriting the Kingdom” (source Matthew 25:31-46).  For all the importance of charity, that wasn’t what this passage is about.  Yet, all the moral paradoxes in the gospels do seem to address the idea that in any civilized culture, people will be “unequal” and will have to deal with it. 

The “chess for charity” idea does sound like something I should be able to do something about.  Note also, that in front of Ted's Bulletin, Match Factory and Angelika Theaters in Merrifield, VA, there's a giant chess set that is missing two white knights. 
Update: Nov. 28

The Washington Nationals on the MLB site report that Ryan Zimmerman (and his wife Heather) volunteered packing Thanksgiving dinners at Food and Friends,  MLB video link here. Wikipedia reports that Ryan's mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995, so he had to take responsibility for others in family earlier in life than many people.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

SCOTUS to hear case on when metaphorical expression online can be taken as a criminal threat (case of Anthony Elonis)

Robert Barnes has a front page story Monday morning, November 24, 2014, in The Washington Post, on the upcoming Supreme Court oral arguments on the Anthony Elonis case (Elonis v. U.S., apparently to be heard Monday, December 1 in oral arguments). The story title is “A social media test for justices; Facebook rants spawn speech case; Was PA man venting or making real threats?”, link here.   I see that I had discussed this case previously here June 8, 2014.

The SCOTUS blog has links to all of the briefs here.  Wikipedia has a brief history of the conviction of Elonis in PA, resulting in 44 months in federal prison, here. The applicable statue was 18 USC 875(c).

A major issue in the case is whether metaphorical statements (in this case, sometimes based on parody by “Whitest Kids U’ Know”) online should be taken as threats.  The amicus brief says that “this case presents an ideal opportunity for this Court to determine whether its current True Threats Doctrine is compatible with contemporary modes of communication.”  Also, “Internet users may give vent to emotions on which they have no intention of acting, memorializing expressions of momentary anger.” 

There’s another related area, as to whether statements of potential threats made to mental health professionals are confidential, or must be related to law enforcement.  Back in 1964, when I was undergoing therapy, a psychiatrist told me that all communication was absolutely confidential.  Today, the situation has obviously changed, given all the history of rampages (Holmes in particular).  One could expect that to be litigated eventually.

While the news story emphasizes the danger to female spouses and children in domestic violence situation, the other very obvious place where this case matters is schools.  Often, school administrators feel that they are in a position of taking zero chances if any sort of threat is implied.
This has often expanded to social media posted outside of school.  In the June 8 posting, I mentioned an incident that occurred in 2005 when I was substitute teaching.  I had posted a fiction screenplay treatment on a flat site (not on a social networking site as such) in which an older male substitute teacher arguably resembling me gives in to advances to a precocious student and is arrested at school, and dies in prison.  There are some other complicating factors in the story (the student had used a defibrillator – not quite in common use in schools in 2005 – to revive the teacher when “teaching” PE, and the student performs the teacher’s music posthumously, and there was no “actual sex” itself, just inappropriate lower level contact.  Nevertheless, this story was apparently (after apparently being found by a student or teacher after another teacher had in fact been arrested at the school in an unrelated incident) viewed as an indication that I might have a “propensity” (in parallel to the language of the old DADT law) to give in to an advance and that I could create a risk.  This was never litigated.  (Maybe there were competing “strategies”, to put it mildly.) I actually got the sub job back eventually and left for other reasons, so I would have no clear “standing”.  But this Elonis case might give an indication on how the Supreme Court feels about “implicit content” in general. Part of my situation would have involved whether fiction can be interpreted as a "threat" (Bindrim v. Miller in California, 1979), as demonstrated in a film about a Canadian case in schools, "Blackbird" (reviewed on Movies blog, Nov. 2, 2014).

While the case refers to Facebook, the ideas would apply to any web or forum posting, to email, tweets, text messages, or other social networks like Myspace, which is older.  Would it apply to Snapchat? The idea that  posting might be found by interested others through search engines and not just by “friends” or “followers” would seem to be important in my situation.  Dr. Phil had covered some of this in a program called “Internet Mistakes”, on Myspace, reviewed on the TV Blog Jan. 15, 2008.  

There are cases somewhat related to Elonis in Florida (mentioned here June 8) and Texas (where a teenager Justin Carter was prosecuted for Facebook "threats", Matt McCann's story in the Austin Chronicle, Feb. 28, 2014 here (Internet safety blog, July 3, 2013).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will "the right to be forgotten" come to the US?

There is an interesting column on p. A15 of the Washington Post, Saturday November 22, 2014, p. A15, by Richard J. Peltz-Steele, “A second chance online.”  The online title is more telling, “The ‘right to be forgotten’ online is really a right to be forgiven,” link here
The article notes that Google and other search engines (like Bing) are inundated with over a thousand “forget me” requests daily in Europe, and the EU court did not give any guidance as to how to implement.  It also says that the policy is in force only in European countries, and does not currently affect searches done in the US.  It is not completely clear that US search engines never will decide to prune some US search results, for whatever reason they decide suits their business models.  This already happens with “content quality” and that concept could extend someday to older news stories or older postings; otherwise, will search engine results expand infinitely, like the Universe?

The article gives an example with the case of killer Robert Castree, where news stories were removed from European search results because of another person identified in news coverage, when he wanted to be forgotten.  The whole idea of “forgetting” started in Spain with a man humiliated by a 1998 debt.
In fact, If you search for Robert Castree here in the US, you find many results, and a Wikipedia article.  In fact, that’s one idea that would defeat the European concept.  Could the EU order Wikipedia to take some coverage down?  So far, the order seems to apply only to “true search engines”.  What about a flat site like my “”, that has its own indexing. Could I be ordered someday to honor this in Europe?  I have no capacity to change content according to country of destination.  The site has been blocked in some authoritarian countries, but Urchin stats shows plenty of traffic in those countries anyway, especially Russia, China and Islamist countries.
A more relevant point for me might be that sites like mine (the older flat sites like or its predecessor tended to magnify persons who might have remained obscure but who had become important in my own world slice. That was particularly true when my I put my DADT-1 book online in the summer of 1998, one year after paperback publication, and allowed it to be searched.  Now Google Books does the same. There was a case in early 2006 when someone, in an offhand conversation in a bar, mentioned his concern over finding a reference in a footnote in my book whenever he “Googled his name”.  I changed the HTML copy be just initials (it was actually an attribution for a 1996 press release) but it could remain online in any other third party book searches.  (This happened shortly after my substitute-teaching debacle in late 2005 over my web screenplay, so it was a but spooky at the time.) There were two other instances (in 2001 and 2003) when individuals asked that their name be removed, and in both cases the circumstances were unique or unusual enough to warrant doing so.  All of this took place before “online reputation”, as Michael Fertik defined it, became an everyday concept, and it all happened before Facebook (and two of the incidents even before Myspace). 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Let's Encrypt" could make encryption of all web content routine by end of 2015

Electronic Frontier Foundation (with partners Mozilla, Akamai, Cisco, and IdenTrust) has announced that a new security certificate authority, “Let’s Encrypt”, to be “free, automated and open” will arrive in the summer of 2015.  It will use TLS (the successor to SSL) which it says every major browser uses now.  The main link is here
The new standard will make encryption much easier for the “novice” webmaster than the current procedure.
Again, a good question is whether a website that does not require users to log on (as my doaskdotell does not) needs encryption.  I’ve noticed more traffic in recent years from non-democratic countries, so certainly there is an issue for those visitors.  I’m far less convinced that the NSA really cares when an average American accesses information about, say, bitcoin, because there is simply an overwhelming amount of data to collate. 

A related ability, as recently noted, would be the capacity to encrypt email correspondence.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fake "scholarly journals" pretend to do peer reviews when paid; more on print farms

There is a whole cottage “industry” of “scholarly open access” where “journals” charge writers to publish scientific papers, and pretend to do peer reviews without really doing them. 
The paper “Get me off your f__ing mailing list” really got published by “The International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology”, with peer review by an automated robot.

SOA has a typical story about this particular paper (by David Mazieres and Eddie Kohler) here.  SOA has a list of these “publishers”, compiled by Jeffrey Beale,  here.  IO9 has a humorous account of the incident here.
Joseph Stromberg has an account on Slate of his sting with a print content farm here
I sometimes get requests from people to publish their articles on my blog (I did used to do it on “” on the Readers page), but I always tell them, create their own blog and self-publish, and I will link. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Large sunspot is again within sight-line of Earth, meaning that technology and Internet disruptions from solar coronal mass ejections (if Carrington-like) are possible.

Brian Van de Graaff of WJLA in Washington DC interviews Dr. Alex Young of NASA about the huge sunspot that is reappearing in the Sun’s rotation.

Relatively few television stations have covered this concern much in the past two days.
The sunspot threw off several large solar flares in October but no damaging coronal mass ejections.  Not all flares cause CME’s, and the most intense part of a CME is likely to miss the Earth unless the Earth is right in front of the location of the CME’s path.  A flare can cause some satellite and radio disruptions in eight minutes;  a CME typically takes about 2-3 days to reach Earth, and with current technology, the severity of it isn’t known until about an hour before it arrives.
The largest CME’s can cause severe damage to power grids, which in the worst cases could take months or years to repair.  One problem is that we don’t make many transformers within the US.  For a really large flare, damage to the grid could be mitigated by deliberate brownouts or blackouts, and by adding extra capacity and improving the grounding of transformers with newer technology, which isn’t discussed often but which business interruption insurance companies follow and say is progressing.

The sunspot is somewhat smaller than it was in October. 

A big practical concern, in the case of a damaging CME incident, would be how the Internet would be affected by brownouts, or whether less “essential” services, like social media or publishing platforms, would be shut down for some time. 

The largest CME in recorded history was the Carrington Event of 1859, which disrupted telegraph service just getting going at the time.  That could be catastrophic today, as we have become dependent on technology without securing it against rare events.  There was a large incident in 1928, and another in 1989 that disrupted power in Quebec. We may have missed a big CME by a few days (having moved out of line for a direct hit just in time) in July 2012.  
Power disruptions are more likely at polar latitudes, and at this time of year might be more affected in the southern hemisphere.  

Wikipedia attribution link for CME illustration. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

SCOTUS needs to take major case on API interoperability (and the java language)

The federal circuit in Washington DC (the appeals circuit for the District of Columbia), in its infinite pretense of wisdom on technology, has recently ruled that “application program interfaces” (or “API’”) are protected by copyright.  The problem surface when Google used the “characteristics of functions” from Sun’s java programming language (and its many “methods” from basic algebra), believing it was doing what Borland had done years before with respect to Lotus.  The actual opinion is on Finnegan, here

Timothy B. Lee has a major op-ed on Vox, in which he argues that this is a potentially existential case that can affect future consumers, particularly of mobile devices or of Apple (as opposed to PC and Microsoft) products, as well as the “free services” that companies like Google still find it profitable to offer.  The link for the story is here.  The case is Google v. Oracle America. Lee, and others, argue that the Supreme Court needs to take this case. 

Copyhype has another account of the problem here
Java isn't the only language with "methods" that have "characteristics".  Consider C++ and C#.  

Public Knowledge has an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on the case here
An d Electronic Frontier Foundation has a similar brief, Nov 7. 2014, here

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wordpress service company "Automattic" announces transparency policy (with Github) for DMCA takedowns, posts frivolous complaints on "Hall of Shame.

I noticed on my Wordpress panel today a link to a story, that “Automattic” (the company that runs Wordpress) is not placing its DMCA complaint processing on Github so that all can see any frivolous claims.  It also reports claims to Chilling Effects.

The “Wptavern” story link is here.  The specific story concerned a complaint by Janet Jackson (famous for the 2004 Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” with Justin Timberlake) of both copyright and trademark infringement.  The trademark complaint seemed to occur because of a mere mention of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video, as in this posting on “Blue Stocking Red Carpet” here  (in a “Dinner Party Conversation” called “What Would Your WWE Smackdown Name Be?”)  Is a “dinner party” here like one of my “pot luck suppers” in NYC back in the 1970s when I was “coming out” a second time?  Well, there’s no way merely mention of a celebrity or company name, even if unfavorably, infringes on a trademark.  (On the other hand, sending spam pretending to be from the company or celebrity definitely does.)  The copyright infringement was claimed for an image of Jackson that appears to be with Timberlake in 2004.  The copyright for an image usually belongs to the party that took the image, not the people in the photo.  (There are emerging other issues, though, with photography, normally legal in public places, but nevertheless provoking legal and ethical controversy when they circulate in social media – say, like dirty dancing disco photos, for openers.)  “Automattic” placed this complaint in a “Hall of Shame”, like a pillory in Williamsburg (“Sorry, Ms. Jackson”, here).  The "Tavern" story has a nice picture of Automattic HQ, presumably in San Francisco.  EFF may not be far away.  (By the way, the Jackson-Timberlake incident found its way into honorable mention in Dov Seidman's "How" book. It was all over AOL the Sunday night that it happened.) 
I’d love to have the celebrity status to attract this kind of gossip on dinner party sites.  The last Commandment is “thou shalt not covet”. 

GOP used Twitter "illegally" to manipulate mid-term elections

There is a new flak over the way the GOP apparently used bizarre Twitter accounts to coordinate polling data with PAC’s and “non-profits”, a practice that is said to still violate campaign finance reform laws.   The detailed story and video by Chris Moody of CNN is here

It’s easy to dismiss this episode as an example of hyper partisanship.  It’s rather silly.  And I have to add, sometimes I get very unwelcome approaches from people to become involved in partisan activity.  They don’t understand my lax “loyalty”. 

The story rings a bell for me because back in 2005 there was a debate on whether campaign finance reform could affect even amateur blogging.   Through a sequence of coincidences that now seem improbable in retrospect, this led to my actually stopping substitute teaching (as explained July 27, 2007).  In the long run, the FEC eventually said that “ordinary” blogging and web activity would not be viewed as indirect campaign activity, even though an appeals court had told it to look at the issue.
I’ve worked as an “election judge” in Arlington three times, although I haven’t done it since 2007.  I can do without the 5 AM start time and 18 hour day.  But it is a kind of “service”.  I wonder what the needs for election judges will be in November 2016.  The voter check-in process is now even more automated, as I saw when I voted Nov. 4.  I still know some of the people.   
But "Dem Republicans" act like a grad student who thinks his course grade comes from "a mid term and the final." Oh, I had a professor who gave his final on a Sunday, too (not Tuesday).  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jury duty (especially on a "grand jury" or a big trial) can cause issues for bloggers and journalists

The current media attention to the grand jury convening in Ferguson, MO to consider whether to indict a particular police officer for the death of Michael Brown brings up and important topic for bloggers and journalists:  what happens when a news person is called for an extended period of jury duty?
I do see that I last took this up in June 2012 but it’s time for another look. 
When I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, Texas had a “one day or one trial” system.  My name came up about every two years.  I actually served on two trials: a two-day weapons trial in 1982, where we convicted someone, and a malpractice civil trial in 1986 where the parties settled on the second day.  Both of these experiences yield some detail that is worth further exploration at another time, probably on my Wordpress blogs.  The Texas system tends to promote very brief periods of jury duty that don’t usually create significant conflicts. 

In Arlington VA, the procedure is to send a questionnaire to a randomly chosen group of voters every year.  The summons must be answered within 10 days.  Then during the following calendar year the person may be called for one week or more (if a trial lasts longer).  Persons over 70 can refuse to serve. The site is here.
From 1949 to her passing in 2010, I believe my mother received questionnaires twice, and served once, for a week, I believe in 1987.  I don’t believe my father ever served (he passed in 1986).  This seems like a low probability event.
Federal procedures seem to be similar (site) with pay now $40 a day with expenses, possibly $50 a day for longer periods.  There is a questionnaire and a separate summons for actual service.
In northern Virginia, criminal federal trials would occur in Alexandria.  There is a slight possibility that few trials can be prolonged and high-profile, as related to terrorism or major corruption.    In recent years, federal trials, such as for sex offenses involving minors or child pornography, seem to have become a little more common, and some could be controversial.   But frequency of service seems to be very low, maybe once in 25 or 30 years in northern Virginia.
A big wild card is grand jury duty, as noted by circumstances now near St. Louis. Grand juries come from the same pool as petit juries (for civil and criminal trials).  Grand jury terms can run from one to three years.  And “retired” people, like those in my circumstances, are more likely to be “invited” to actually serve on grand juries if their names come up randomly.  The typical pattern, in both federal and state courts, is for the number of days a week to go down after the first 30-60 days of the term.  Often, a grand jury may meet only one day a week, if there are no controversial cases around.
This raises the obvious question, for me at least: use of social media and the web.  We all know that in the most extreme trials (like OJ Simpson in the 1990s in Los Angeles), jurors may be sequestered and kept from all media contact, including now Internet use.  But these cases are rare.

The possibility that juror Internet use could amount to misconduct and could nullify a verdict later is serious.  Online articles on the topic vary widely right now on how courts handle this.
It certainly is not a problem for me to avoid mention of a case (online or even in person) while I am on a jury, particularly if is an “ordinary”, short trial that is over in 2-3 days.  But grand jury service, since it is more likely at my age, and because it runs a long time, can present “conflict of interest” issues similar to those of other (management) employment. 
In fact, my activity would be problematic because I don’t use it for “socializing” directly the way others do, as to present my own news commentary, which because of the nature of the “concentric” positions I take, covers almost all topics, including crime and intellectual property torts (like libel, copyright and trademark) that could wind up in court on my own plate as a potential juror.  The problem for me that a comment online on these blogs about almost any topic could be viewed as at least indirectly showing prejudice or a propensity to view a certain defendant or plaintiff a certain way from preconceived ideas. Similar conflicts, as I have noted, can exist between self-published online writings and the workplace (where there are subordinates), schools (where students get grades) and even election law.  Ideas in my world (like race and sexual orientation) are always presumed to be potentially connected. 

Certainly, I would allow (even invite) attorneys in a voir dire to look at my materials online and draw their own conclusions.  It is certainly possible the pre-emptory strikes could result.
However, I could not “afford” to stop online social media or blogging activity for an extended period just out of “hyper-concern” over a particular case (especially in “OJ-like” circumstances).  The problem is that, under the circumstances, I might lose the sites or never be able to resume.  So this would indeed involve “sacrifice”.
Grand jury duty invokes other ideas about “service” indeed, because it can run so long and create conflicts.   There are other areas where “seniors” do some of the service, such as working on election days as “election judges” where the days are very long and there is a shortage of “volunteers”. 
If I do ever get a questionnaire summons (and I am probably “overdue” for one), I might refer to this posting in the answer. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"The Parable of the Talents" keeps getting retold; indeed "life isn't fair"

Today, Sunday November 16, 2014, the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA held its annual stewardship service and potluck lunch, in the contemporary format in the gym.  The sermon, by Rev. Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, “Not just giving – Thanksgiving” took up a passage I’ve talked about before, The Parable of the Talents, one of three parables in Matthew 25.  I’ve talked about that here before, such as on Dec. 23, 2007.
I’ll sidetrack myself for a moment on the title of the sermon, “giving”.  That recalls to mind a particular confrontation in my life back in 1974, which I take up on one of the Wordpress blogs, here . At a Sunday night talk group right after the Friday night encounter described here, I immediately started with the topic of “giving” without actually doing it.
I’ve always seen the Parable of the Talents as a way of saying, “Life isn’t fair;  It’s not supposed to be; get used to it.”  Even Donald Trump says that!
Pastor Judy did talk about it in terms of capitalism – we think about it as “stocks and home ownership long term, bonds short term”.  Pastors, she said, typically want to use the parable as a rod to prod people into tithing or more.  Bu the scripture doesn’t say that.
A “talent” in ancient society and in this context represented a huge amount of labor, which might amount to $300,000 or so in today’s money.  So for even the lowest “slave” (and we can take hint from the idea that slavery was accepted in Jesus’s time and in his teachings) one talent was a big bequest.   
I can’t help but reflect on the idea that the world is indeed very “unequal”, in terms of basic opportunity as well as income and wealth.  People are brought into the world by parents in very different circumstances, and grow up not only with different amounts of financial support, but with varying levels of personal ability whose effectiveness depends so much on parental and community nurture.  At this particular church, in north Arlington, all the young people seem to do super well (and I can speak to that from my days in the past as a substitute teacher – in Arlington and Fairfax).  The church has a very liberal social and political bias (it would support universal healthcare and same-sex marriage).  Across the street, there is a Mormon stake which is the opposite, very conservative.  But again, all the young people, brought up by attentive parents with resources, and with some kind of foundation in faith, do well in school in life. Parenting, opportunity, and culture, and some sort of faith and exposure to critical thinking matter; partisan political affiliation does not.
So, with my libertarian background, I talk about “personal responsibility”, Cato-style, as a moral absolute.  (So does a lot of the GOP, too.)  We get so we talk about it as a shield from having to deal with the real needs of other people with any real personal or emotional involvement.  It’s easier to give conscience money (including church offerings) than it is time, or particularly personal attention.  Isn’t “minding your own business” a virtue?
In fact, I often find that when someone else not from this “sheltered world” knocks on the door, the person lives in a totally different world, and doesn’t share any of the same cognition.  The person does not know how to function in an individualistic society, and was not only given the proper parenting to do so, but lost the ability to develop any idea of “personal responsibility” was we would see it.
Inequality is inevitable, and we indeed need to use our talents “on our own” for a while, to be good enough at something to learn a living and have something to say.  To be good at piano, you have to practice, alone.  The same goes for math, for skills in computer coding (Zuckerberg) and many other things (like surgery).  When individual skills (“talents” in the broadest sense) are developed, we can innovate.  Hopefully, innovation raises the living standards for everyone.  That’s the libertarian to conservative argument.  Western music, if you think about how it evolved from Bach through modern times, provides an interesting parallel lesson in innovation. 
Yet at some point, people have to turn attention to the needs of others.  If they don’t, inequality leads to desperation and hopelessness, with instability and frank threats to security.  There may be less crime today quantitatively in major cities than in the past, but that which does occur sounds more brazen.  Even all the international threats (whether from ISIS or North Korea) can be understood as ultimately having a personal component.  (In a sense, we are responsible for what our leaders do because we consumer resources from other parts of the world, and we are capable of exploiting the sacrifices of others without realizing it.)
Conservatives, particularly (at least in the past) are used to seeing “interpersonal helpfulness” as predicated on a society that promotes monogamous heterosexual marriage and some personal success with gender conformity.  The old idea was that, if you’re a man, to help others you need to be able to protect women and children (and prove it if drafted), and then, prodded by the monopoly marriage was supposed to enjoy on all sexuality, found and raise your own family first – and then reach others.  In social capital verbiage, you needed to master “bonding capital” (which used to be gender-based) before moving to “bridge capital”.  If you didn’t conform to your gender (even in terms of sexual intercourse), you were less than equal, and so attempts to help others were compromised.   The solution for many decades as parity and “urban exile” (a kind of perversion of “separate but equal”). 
People “like me”, in a more permissive society, set ourselves separately, outside the usual ties of the family, and with society becoming not only tolerant but accepting enough, were often successful in our own ways.  But to remain visible and prosperous, we often did depend on others in unseen and unhealthful ways.  We could not always give back, and we might not find the necessary personal interaction with some people we may depend on "meaningful";  so we could stoke the resentment of inequality even further, from those who might find more sense in the system if everyone really did something to earn his station and pay if forward (or back). There comes a point, eventually, that when one does not give back, if challenged, one will share for paying for the sins or crimes of others anyway. Without forgiveness, there is no posthumous honor or comfort in being called a "victim".  
So, “giving back” does have something to do with socialization.  There are connections between marriage (now including gay marriage), learning to provide for others, reaching into the community, and stepping back from one’s own agenda and being able to fit into the group, even if one does not always like the group’s leadership, bureaucracy, or suppression of critical thinking.   There is, indeed, service, and submission (Sept. 30).  All of these things (as they come up in national service proposals from people like McChrystal) are interrelated, as if forming some kind of “virtuous circle”.  It’s hard to jump on the merry-go-round, and as, in “Strangers on a Train”, easy to fall off.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Should "ordinary" journalists and "amateur" bloggers learn PGP encryption for their emails? Maybe

I’ve started reading Glenn Greenwald’s “No Place to Hide” (and the movie “CitizenFour”, Oct, 27, 2014 on the Movies blg) about his interactions with Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras.  I’ll discuss it soon in my “Book Reviews” blog soon, but I wanted to mention now that right off the bat Greenwald mentions the fact that when Snowden first contacted him, Snowden encouraged him to learn how to encrypt his emails.

It’s not real simple to implement PGP (“pretty good privacy”) but here’s one typical tutorial.

Does an “ordinary” journalist need to do this?  First, I suspect that by now big corporate news organizations are providing email encryption, so a more important question could be, do freelance journalists and “amateur” bloggers need to do this?
Well, if they’re working in authoritarian countries or with clients or sources in these countries, probably yes.  (TOR is another discussion.) If they’re totally within the West, in most cases, no, unless the circumstances are dramatic enough, like those in Greenwald’s book.  However, I have received emails from foreign sources in dubious countries on a few occasions.  I don’t promise immunity or anonymity if it is a warning of an attack or crime.  If I did, and if I offered PGP in response, would I get more tips, even given my own operation?  Possibly.  I might get more info in areas that I give special attention to, ranging from power grid security to the Russian anti-gay law.

Greenwald mentions that after his Salon article, filmmaker Laura Poitras found herself under less scrutiny when she traveled.  According to Greenwald, The government regards Wikileaks as a criminal group.  

Another topic, though, worth exploring: to get into real journalism, how do you "pay your dues"?  I hope not by going to Syria.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

US Government spying on cell phone conversations with surveillance planes, fake towers

The United States DOJ is using spyplanes (perhaps drones) and fake cell towers to gather cell phone metadata on ordinary Americans, as well as getting more specific information on targets.  It’s called “man in the middle” technology.  The Wall Street Journal has a story by Devlin Barrett on this “Dragnet” technology today (with video) here. It’s also called the “Spy from the Sky” program and is a military program used overseas.

The government will maintain that this is an important tool in gathering intelligence about possible domestic terror attacks, whether Islamist or other sources, like the extreme right-wing.  It would have been used to track down Eric Frein, and might be useful in kidnapping and disappearance cases (just as GPS was used to break a recent kidnapping in Philadelphia)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

High school teacher near Dallas suspended (and probably fired) for "racist" tweets on personal account; is this a matter of "conflict of interest"? Was she just using hyperbole?

A high school English teacher, Vinita Hegwood, at Duncanville High School in the Duncanville Independent School District of Texas (directly south of Dallas) has been place on unpaid leave and will presumably be fired as a result of several “racist” tweets she posted from her personal account recently. The news story on CNN is here. The tweets related to the controversy in Ferguson, MO, where a grand jury meets now to determine whether to indict a police officer.  From playing YouTube comments about the tweets, it sounds as though to me that the tweets were a form of extreme hyperbole and may not have been meant to be taken literally – from a 140 character limit.  
The teacher reportedly had implied that she thought it was “safer” to talk on Twitter than Facebook!
The school district will say that the abrasive content of the tweets, and the public attention they will attract from students, will interfere with her ability to do her job. The teacher reportedly was in her second year of permanent teaching.
I have previously explained on this blog how I got into trouble when I was substitute teaching back in 2005 for a fictive screenplay treatment that I had posted on my own personal website.  The details are on this blog in a posting July 27, 2007, and that post links (at the bottom) to an even more detailed account of the computer forensics afterword, where I analyze the accesses to my server and propose a detailed theory as to what must have happened “behind the scenes”.  This incident had centered around West Potomac High School in Fairfax County, VA (not far from Alexandria), and concerned a history and fact pattern from June to December, 2005. My content issue was much more ambiguous, and concerned whether my fiction story could be viewed as self-defamation.  (And I wasn’t limited to 140 characters.) 
My situation was quite different from hers in that I was “just a sub” and not “even” a long term substitute, so I did not have the authority to affect students’ grades.  
I had written, in the past, that people who have direct repots in the workplace, (authority to control performance appraisals or compensation) or who have the authority to give grades in a school setting (as permanent teachers normally do) should not “self-publish” their own political or social views online without the supervision of a third party “gatekeeper”.  I had attracted some attention to this view with a “whitepaper” back in 2000, where I argued that embedded opinions about personal characteristics of people (anything – race, age, religion, appearance, gender, fitness, smarts, sexuality) could, if found by students or subordinate employees through search engines, could suggest prejudice in the classroom or workplace with possible legal consequences.  I had expressed this view well before social media as we know them today had become accepted.  At the time of my own mishap in 2005, Myspace was popular but Facebook had barely been invented.  I had not used Myspace or even blogs, however; all of my material was on a flat site.  I continue to develop this material on my Wordpress blogs.
I had viewed this whole problem as a “conflict of interest” matter.  I have sometimes thought that one way to manage the issue is to require people in the position to judge others to whitelist all their own materials (publish only in “private mode” to approved friends or followers lists – effectively limiting self-publishing to listserver-like or forum-like use – but this probably wouldn’t be very reliable, if incidents like the one in Texas are to be avoided.
Public school teachers, as public employees, have a presumed first-amendment right to free speech, even self-published, but it can be heavily limited by the possibility that it can disrupt a school environment.  A film relevant to this matter is “Blackbird” (by Jason Buxton), reviewed on the Movies blog Nov. 2, 2014; a book that is relevant is Dov Seidman’s “How”, reviewed on my Books blog Nov. 10, 2014. 

It's perhaps just coincidental, that I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988 and know this geographical area very well, and have often visited.