Saturday, April 30, 2016

David Brooks overreaches himself in telling us how to be good, and dragging Donald Trump into his own "process piece" (it's still getting "less bad")

OK, moral pundit David Brooks ("The Road to Character", Book reviews, June 16, 2015) has created a lot of flak with, “If not Trump, what?” NYTimes, on Friday, April 29, 2016.  He gives us an order: “We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the channels of segmentation that afflict this country.” Is Brooks himself a hypocrite if he doesn’t walk in the shoes of a worker-peasant like what Mao required during the Cultural Revolution?  He's probably experiencing his own Hawking radiation, evaporating slightly -- but that's not so "bad".

Salon echoes that sentiment in a piece by Aaron Barlow about his mea culpa, here.  There’s no way to walk in the shoes of the poor without giving everything up like the Rich Young Ruler in the Gospels.

In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore gives Brooks some credit, but then says that Trump really is invoking hatred.

Remember, in 2013, David Brooks, a conservative, had called legal acceptance of gay marriage “one loss for freedom” because gays would be accepting the idea of erotic commitment that previously only heterosexuals had been allowed.

But this Friday, Brooks noted that society’s definition of masculinity had changed so much that men who had lived up to earlier, self-silencing notions of it were paying dearly, often with incarceration.  Today’s roles model young men likely would include Mark Zuckerberg, Jack and Luke Andraka, Taylor Wilson, Param Jaggi, the Two Timo’s (Andres and Descamps, in either order), and probably Richard Harmon (“the greatest of all time”).  That is to say, geeks, clean cut artists, coding prodigies.  Some of them might not see procreation and lineage as very high male priorities.  Most of them are probably largely secular in action. As we move into middle age, we would see Anderson Cooper and Tim Cook as role models.  And, well, Edward Snowden (well, he’s not middle aged yet).  But Jullian Assange has.  And none of this yet considers women as role models, or transgender (Caitlin, or Lady Valor).  Add Bryce Harper and RG3 if you like.  Oh, and by the way, no one on this list will ever want to run for president. You don't need to be head of state for timocracy.

David Brooks probably won’t earn a title as “second greatest of all time”.  I wonder if he can run a wind sprint and win it.

Second picture:  I finally made it to Sideling Hill East (abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel) today on foot. More about this soon. Indeed, America still starts here (even if the apocalyptic film "The Road" was filmed here.)

Update: May 4

Forbes has a piece ("Why income inequality isn't being solved") by Erik Sherman, May 2015, explaining that the real focus on inequality should be with wealth, not just income per se.

Yet back in 2013, Maura Pennington had written, "To fix income inequality, the have-nots must become do-somethings". 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Legitimate" original content publishers could benefit from carefully conceived support of privacy, anti-tracking tools

Digital Content Next has an important article by Don Marti, “Service Journalism and the Web Advertising Problem.  Content originators (which would include many news and visible commentary sites) have to consider the idea that their content is “pseudo-pirated” and placed on “bottom feeders” supported by much less reputable ads.  There is a general idea that some privacy tools, which reduce but don’t completely eliminate all advertiser tracking, could help content originators keep visitors coming to their own sites and to earn more legitimate advertising revenue in the long run.

Melody Kramer has a detailed article on Poynter University about how “Ad tech is broken” and how most smaller websites don’t have a very good handle on how ads are served (or they leave it up to Google).

The “Tech Fix” column in the New York Times has a useful article by Brian X. Chen and Natasha Singer, “Free tools to keep those creepy online ads from watching you”.    This seems to be more about ordinary tracking for more sales  than the “maldvertising” malware risk, but there is always a “marginal” risk that this problem spills into stalking or direct targeting from unusually combative enemies.  The article describes some tools, like Privacy Badger from EFF  , Disconnect Me, Ghostery, Adblock-plus.

And then, there is https everywhere.

I believe that the following guest link is by “BlogTyrant” (Ramsay Taplin) on how to build a custom advertising strategy if “you” are a new webmaster or blogger.   I won’t say I agree wholeheartedly (just look at how I’m set up), but what I do get from Ramsay is an idea of the aggressiveness it takes to make money on the web, through self-employment, once you’ve decided to do it – and have to do it, because you’ve taken on mouths to feed (whether through procreation or not through your own choices).   If you don’t need to make the site pay its own way, the game is different – but that raises other ethical “Achilles heels”.  What I’m not seeing in postings from his world is how to integrate aggressiveness with very real concerns about visitor security.  But if I had gown up with Ramsay's background, I might have developed the same views.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Northern Virginia gun shop sues legislators, citizens for various forms of disparagement

A new gun shop (NOVA Armory) in Arlington VA has sued numerous individuals for trying to disparage the business, with much of the activity occurring even before it even opened.

Among 64 defendants in the Virginia lawsuit are seven state legislators who allegedly appealed to the landlord not to rent to the business, an Arlington county board member and an Arlington school board member, and numerous residents.

Apparently some of the complaint involves social media disparagement. If so, this would not be the same scenario as many of the lawsuits brought against customers critical of businesses on review sites, as these individuals probably are not customers and would not have agreed to any non-disparagement. This may be more like a SLAPP suit, and Virginia does not have strong protections against SLAPP.

The Washington Post has a story by Patrician Sullivan here,

A store called NOVA Firearms has reportedly closed a location in Falls Church but has another one in McLean. The news story doesn’t say if this is the same business as NOVA Armory.

I don’t think that a gun shop that is operating lawfully creates a problem for a community.
Visitors could try the film “Bill’s Gun Shop” (2001), by Dean Hyers, filmed around Minneapolis, on Amazon. The film was a hit with the local Libertarian Party of Minnesota when I lived there. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

How blogging and self-publishing may have to grow more vertical

John Herrman has a “bits” column (no relation to Vox technology commentator Tim Lee as "@binarybits") today, on p B5 of the New York Times, “How Online Media is tested when social media comes to town”.

Herrman describes a “publication” as a multisided marketplace:  readers, advertisers, writers (me), and, with some platforms (Facebook) app developers.

He talks about how publishers, as businesses, compare to narrower content or item sellers, particularly (in his essay) toys, when they get to mega-markets like Amazon. His ideas seem to comport with the advice of Ramsay Taplin or “Blogtyrant” – that effective content, that sells big online, is getting more specialized, taller, or more vertical in nature.  It’s the skyscraper model (New York) rather than the Paris or Washington model (broad).

This is a difficult thing for me, because I’m not interested in selling any widget (virtual or physical) as a commodity.  I like to “connect the dots”.  That is, connect content itself, rather than connect people just for people’s sake (“nice to see you” and all the spurious social introductions). Maybe it sounds like I’m planning another “big short”.  Particularly, I’d like to see some major areas that don’t get enough coverage (like energy or grid security) reported thoroughly.  But I’m not going to sell you a book (commodity)  with some magical way to save yourself as a doomsday prepper. I’ll say that from some very personal observations (not yet public) on the road, I think some of this may get more focused attention from the media soon.

Had I developed, when you, as a classical musician or composer, my own activity would be much narrower or taller now.  I might not has been as far from that goal as most people think (something I have been showing lately on my Wordpress “media” blog, and something I expect to augment).  But then, I might be in the same boat as everyone else, if something happens to all of us.

The one big “hole” in Ramsay’s or Hermman’s theory is security – how much attention, for example, do we all need to pay to https?  Plenty, if the mantra is now “always be selling” (eg, “always be closing” from the comedy movie “The 100 Mile Rule

A recent firing at Salon shows that things are getting difficult at progressive online magazines, because they really have to pay their own freight (story).

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Amateur sleuth nailed by FBI, finally release; more on downstream liability for "tangential threats"

Here’s a cautionary tale about “amateurism” on the Internet. It’s a front page New York Times (Sunday, April 24, 2016) story An Aamteur v. ISIS: A car salesman investigates and winds up in prison”, by Scott Shane.

The auto salesman seeking meaning in life, Toby Lopez, from Delaware (“The Blue Hen State”) spent fourteen months in various federal prisons after being arrested on February 11, 2015, for threatening an FBI investigator and maybe other charges, after a long sequence of communications involving his escalating attempts to get involved with “rescuing” hostages overseas.  He apparently became passionate about the issue in early 2014, after suddenly learning about the ISIS paradigm and investigating on his own on Twitter.  Only very recently were the charges dropped.

 As with so many stories like this, the “devil is in the details”.
A distant related question, in my mind, would be whether a writer could be held liable if he or she posts something that arguably provokes a stranger to commit a crime.  A tangential comes up with the gun industry and “negligent entrustment”, as with Bernie Sanders’s concept of limiting downstream liability (see Issues blog, April 16).  For criminal prosecution, the government would have to pass a high standard of intent from the speaker and of the actual imminent threat of lawless action.  But for civil liability, it seems that the law is looser. The history of the Paladin book “Hit Man” is relevant, as the publisher wound up having to destroy remaining inventory of a book, even though used copies exist and the book is probably available free online. But it’s the online posting of “gratuitous” material that would seem to open the possibility of civil liability, for example if it led to a particular kind of person being targeted in a subsequent crime.  The issue over my screenplay when I was subbing (July 27, 2007) seems distantly relevant.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

ESPN fires analyst (Curt Schilling) for offensive social media post

Curt Schilling, former Boston Red Sox pitcher and ESPN analyst, has been terminated by ESPN for an apparently sexist Facebook post concerning the recent flap over North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” which, apparently if unintentionally, encompasses a lot of other rooms besides bathrooms.
Curt Schilling has his own take, “The hunt to be offended” on his own Wordpress blog post here.

The New York Times has an account of the firing by Richard Sandomir here.

But I wonder, was this post on his own personal Facebook page, or was it one that represented ESPN?  But Facebook’s real name policies and concept of a “pubic figure” or “athlete” etc, page tends to deny the idea of a double life anyway.

Major League Baseball has become quite visible in promoting its own non-discrimination policies, including sexual orientation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Europe's "Right to Be Forgotten" winds up under private, rather secretive control

Mark Scott reports on the front page of the New York Times Wednesday, April 19, 2016, “Europe tried to Rein In Google; It Backfired”.   Google, from its European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, has indeed honored “right to be forgotten” search engine result takedowns, but is able to do so without reporting on results, and without appeal.  It does tell people who ask for takedowns the results and does tell website owners about the removal of results.

Digital Trends reported in February that Google does remove search results for a subject in a “covered” country in the EU across all its domains now, not just the one country, including “.com” in the US. But it does not honor requests yet from the US under normal circumstances.

The process does not affect website content itself.  I have never gotten such a notice that a link to one of my sites was removed in Europe over this issue.  On at least three occasions, I have removed named (or one article someone had posted) when requested, but these events are quite rare, even thought my digital stuff seems to stay forever.

It’s also relevant that the “way back” machine on the Internet archive would contain content I could have changed or removed, although the practical consequences of this fact are probably very remote.  For example, some content that led to an incident when I was working as a substitute teacher in 2005 might be on the Internet archive somewhere.

The UK Register has an interesting perspective, by Andrew Orlowski, on the problem here

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Supreme Court lets ruling favoring Google Books over Author's Guild and its "establishment-ism" stand

The Supreme Court has refused to review a Second Circuit ruling denying a claim by the Author’s Guild that it is entitled to “copyright creep” as a claim against Google books.  Corynne McSherry has a story April 18 at Electronic Frontier Foundation here. This issue had been covered here Jan. 1, 2016.

The Second Circuit had written in October that copyright is intended to benefit the public by encouraging authorship.  But the reasoning of the Circuit seems to be that copyright should not provide a barrier to entry for new authors by unreasonably protecting the turf of established writers.  This is the old “fourth estate” v. “fifth estate” problem which even Mark Cuban has mentioned.

The Author’s Guild has in the past been vigorous in representing the interests of already established authors who earn advances and who depend on writing for a living, the antithesis of writers like me so immerse in my own special narrative.

The New York Times today has a story on the matter by Adam Liptak and Alexandra Alter here. The Guild complains that there is a massive "redistribution of wealth" from the creative sector to the tech sector (which it probably perceives me as part of). 

Monday, April 18, 2016

More on future blogging focus areas

Continuing my dialogue on April 12 on what my own blogging and news coverage “sells”—and expanding on what I said then – “history” – I’d add again that I’d like to bring some focus on issues that even the more progressive news services (Vox, CNN) don’t seem to have covered cleanly.
I’ve probably named these before, but I want go through a few of them. There are “critical” issues and then there are “important” issues that follow as corollaries.

The biggest is probably the security of our infrastructure – especially the power grids (there are three majors in the US) from both solar storms and possible EMP and cyberterror threats.  The devil is in the details, which are quite different with each threat, despite the popular rhetoric. As of now, only Ted Cruz among the major presidential candidates for 2016 has mentioned this in a media interview.

An important “corollary” would be how an issue like energy security affects our confidence in our “system” and our “way of life” – the way this feeds into “doomsday prepper” thinking and the gun and self-defense debate, on the one hand, and on the equality and personal freedom debates on the others – even the importance of the way family socializes (or doesn’t socialize) those who are “different” (like me).

Another critical issue is the way we handle our national debt, our currency issue, and our “entitlements”.  Social Security and Medicare are part of the debate. But (as the recent controversial piece by James Grant in Time Magazine shows) there is still tremendous “confusion” as to what is actually going on behind the scenes with our financial systems.

A corollary important issue would be, just how much of the “safety net” should be the responsibility of government, and how much belongs to families and communities.  Again, people who don’t form their own biological families (until more recently this often equated to gays and lesbians) have an effect on the system.  Another important corollary could be the paid family or parental leave debate.
In fact, one of the “safety net” issues – filial responsibility laws – has gotten almost no attention from the established press since May 2012 when there was a major case in Pennsylvania.  AARP has dropped the ball on it.  That issue rises to critical.

In the Internet world, some of the most critical issues seem to be security (especially ransomware), open access, and downstream liability.  The last of these live on a slippery slope that has analogues in other areas (even like gun shop downstream liability).

Corollaries would include business model issues involving matters ranging from review sites (and their effect on small retail or service businesses) and Internet advertising, connected to “do not track”, with its own security issues and privacy.

And, yes, many people see surveillance – the possibility of “back doors” to encryption which the government wants to break terror plots, but could abuse with cloud surveillance for all kinds of other possible “clients”—as critical.

Two other issues would become "important" in this kind of blogging setting. One is a new perspective on "equality" -- just what should we expect, anyway?  Another is my own way of reconciling cosmology and modern physics with religious faith, which I believe I can do.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Microsoft sues DOJ over keeping consumer cloud data searches secret

Microsoft has sued the US Department of Justice over the government’s insistence that tech companies not disclose to customers that their cloud data has been searched.  The grounds would seem to be the Fourth Amendment.  There is a front page story by Jay Greene and Devlin Barrett Friday April 15, 2016 here.
Brad Smith, legal counsel for Microsoft, has an official blog posting explaining the company’s position which is principled in a way that reminds one of Tim Cook dealing with breaking Apple encryption, calling it “software cancer”.
The government would probably search cloud backups for evidence of terror plots or for evidence in some criminal investigations, possibly including child pornography (where it would seem possible to scan images for matches to the database from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children). The searches could happen with any company (like Apple, Mozy, Carbonite).  

Although this seems rather far-fetched right now, it would seem feasible to scan for piracy or copyright infringement (even copies of material that have not been distributed publicly).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Open access" calls for some "do ask do tell" -style of thinking

So, continuing yesterday’s discussion, I have to ask myself, what would I be “selling” with my new “doaskdotell” branded sites?

The short answer is “history”.  Today’s “millennials” really don’t grasp what things were like a few decades ago, when “moral compass” subsumed unchosen obligations to “community” as well as today’s narrower idea of personal responsibility (and sometimes political correctness).

But, no, I can’t “fix” your life.  I’m not playing motivational speaker.  I don’t have the clout to reserve hotel ballrooms for $2000 a person weekend seminars.

I admit that a lot of what I present is rooted in my own narrative.  I don’t have the command of the tremendous database of voter, corporate, and politician behaviors, often developed by groups like Pew Research, and often presented well on those yellow cardstacks where “Vox explains”.
Can I narrow my focus, if I join up with other groups?  Yes, I can offer something in specific areas like filial responsibility, energy security, social cohesion, and some emerging problems like open access.

This last area comports well with a discussion on just how we get our information, whether knowledge can be totally “democratized” and left to individual control. There is, throughout history, a tendency for many cultures to think that news information should be acquired and then transmitted in a hierarchy, along the lines of (patriarchal) family, church, or political authority. That’s understandable when you consider that typically people to have to work together in cohesive groups (“unit cohesion”) to get things done.  (I remember back in the 1980s, the whole thing about “getting out the vote” at the Dallas Gay Allliance.)

I think back to those times my father squawked, “You read …” about something that turned out to be socially disruptive (including “latent homosexuality”, smoking, fats) but that eventually would be proven “right”.  But being “right” isn’t the same thing as “staying alive” (whether you’re John Travolta, or Gregory Smith’s Everwood character Ephram).

Obviously, in the research journal world, knowledge of some things remains a privilege for those who moved up the ranks and can afford it.

This also comports with the right to transmit knowledge, without the approval of others in a hierarchy. Should the publication and distribution activity have to pay its own way?  This is tied to the open access question.

Along these lines, consider this Electronic Frontier Foundation piece (by Jeremy Malcolm) on “copyright creep” (largely in Europe right now).

Monday, April 11, 2016

My reaction to the advice of other bloggers: here are my plans

I do want to present my updated thoughts on possible restructuring of my entire presence online.

Let me outline the major components of what I publish online. Yes, "I have my" (categories).

Part 1:   E-commerce support, right now limited to four published books.  Right now, this comprises links to outsources e-commerce sites on a specific additional page at “”.
I would like to consider adding direct sales support, which would require user logon (with SSL – https) for purchase of books by credit card or Paypal.  That would probably require a new domain.
But such a domain could also support fund-raising for projects of other people (either books or films) closely related to my own content.  This could include future drives like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. I don’t think that my own personal narrative lends itself to these sources on its own, but it might if connected to or embedded into the work of others on related issues (right now, the “open access” issue might work out this way).

Part 2:  Detailed books support in the way of expanded footnotes and summary tables.  Right now, this is in two places: the legacy “” and the Wordpress site “”, set up as a conventional blog.  This includes music composition support, on my legacy support.

Part 3:  Discussion of my ongoing media projects, including past unpublished manuscripts;  Comments on ongoing projects of others where there is some connection to me;  High-level recap of older media properties (probably reviewed before on my legacy domain) with unusual significance for me is included.  These are on the Wordpress blog “”.

Part 4:  More conventional reviews of movies, books, stage presentations (plays), and music concerts (from the viewpoint of both the music compositions presented and their performance).  These are accomplished by the first five of the sixteen “Blogger” blogs on the left side of the home page for the legacy “”.

Part 5:   News and interpretive commentary.  This is accomplished by the remaining eleven Blogger entries on the left side of the “” home page.

I am considering moving to an operation where most of the new material in Parts 4 and 5 would be entered in two new Wordpress blogs, which might be called something like
“” and “”.

For reviews, this allows easy consolidation of review content for items that have occurred in more than one media.  A separate blog of “cautionary” would no longer be maintained.  Wordpress categories would note the “Blogger” entry that would be used.  Some consolidation would occur;  all the episodes of a television series, for example, would be on just one post.  Most books, films and television or web series chosen for review would need to be of some “substance”.

Categories will show in which media category (as on Blogger) the post would, fit, and perhaps one other major type category.  Tags will show most of the other areas currently labels in Blogger (like names of distribution companies or publishers, directors, authors, actors, etc.)

“News items” would consist mostly of detailed commentary, rather than simply brief regurgitation and links to narrow stories.  For example, there might be a running commentary on “religious freedom laws” in one post but not a separate post for every state that considered such a law.   It’s true that the “controversial issues” page of my legacy “doaskdotell” domain used this concept, and that over time the coverage of some issues (like gay marriage) became obsolete because events moved more quickly than would have been expected, making the approach favored by “Blogger” an easier way to keep up.

I am contemplating putting short “link only” news items on a Facebook page (to supplement my account), but have not completely determined Facebook’s policies on setting up this page.

Categories would show which blog the item would have been posted on, as well as other broad content categories (like “filial responsibility” or “gay marriage” or “downstream responsibility”) Hierarchal categories are likely to be used.

One major advantage of setting up two new Wordpress blogs for all major external media review and news content, separate from my own personal narrative, is that it would be more likely others could collaborate (guest posts, for example).

It still is an open question as to whether content-only blogs really need https (which Google will offer soon on Blogger).  Bluehost says that this limits the size of images, and I’ll have to see if there is a way around this problem.

Another question is what factors influence website safety ratings from companies like Webroot and Kaspersky.  Webroot, for example, seems to penalize for redirection or URL’s and for allowing facetious comments with commercial links.

The two leading companies right now seem to be Blue Host and Dream Host, but that is still not settled.

Use of Blogger might be much less after such a change (which I hope to have done by early May), but corrections would continue to be made, comments monitored, and new narrow postings would be made in specific circumstances.

Here are a few links on the use of categories (like contents) and tags (like an Index) in Wordpress:

First, from Wordpress itself, then from a SEO company, and then from a "themes" site.

My blogging setup will still cast a much broader net than usual.  Most of the common advice on how to monetize blogs involves being quite aggressive, but this works better with very narrow blogs (like a fitness blog that Ramsay Taplin sold as explained here.)  But the issues about security seem to be increasing rapidly,

If I had, for example, a narrowly focused blog on how to win chess games in tournaments with a specific set of openings (oh, like the Sveshnikov Sicilian, maybe) I can see how Ramsay's ideas would play out -- you would attract followers who needed your specific content, and a blog like that could be worth a lot.  Or a site, say, like "", in which the deceased movie critic lives on in the writings of others.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Reddit expands ability to block socially "unwelcome" users as well as trolls

Reddit has expanded its “block user” ability, so that message or forum owners need no longer see replies from persons they see as objectionable.    The concept seems roughly to compare to blocking accounts on Twitter, whose main effect is to stop replies from the user, since public tweets can always be seen if one is simply not logged on.  But this about something more subtle than just “trolling”, stalking or spamming. It’s about unwelcome connectivity.   Anderson Cooper talked about this today on "The View" and said that blocking Twitter accounts just gives some people more ammunition; not sure that I follow.
Farhad Manjoo and Pui-Wing Tam  provided a bigger perspective about “The Internet’s toxic culture” today in the New York Times.   The writers note that the world of subreddits have become haven for extremes in everything.
I haven’t gotten around to using Reddit, because I’ve gotten so busy with what I’ve got.  But it seems to take the place of the forums of the pre-social-media past.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

When writers have to make a living with what they get published

Sarah Lyall has a column in “The Arts” in the New York Times, Thursday, April 7, 2016, “Helping writers with a windfall avoid a downfall”.   I haven’t had to “worry” about this, as I had built up reserves from other sources.  But she describes the live of writers on intermittent day jobs (maybe driving for Uber). “peripatetic teaching gigs”, and “one-time grants”.  I’ve even asked, how would I feel about being the financially supportive partner in a “marriage” where the “husband” was the one to compose a piano sonata.  It doesn’t sound too different from the lives of composers looking for commissions.

But the particular story concerned a writer getting a Whiting Award grant of $50,000, over two years (to reduce tax burden).
But, in my days in Minneapolis, the local NWU had all kinds of writers’ groups, but the most contentious was the business writers’ group.  They had to make a living at it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

W3C digital rights management could hamper future streaming sites; more on abuse of DMCA takedown; can one self-instantiate as a "public figure"?

Electronic Frontier Foundation is very much in the news as April (and its beloved San Francisco Giants next door – a favorite, by the way, of popular actor Richard Harmon) get started.
First, EFF sent major comments (by Corynne McSherry) to the US Copyright office on DMCA takedown notices and their abuse.

EFF also has an alarming story today, “Save Netflix” by Cory Doctorow – not about today’s company, but about the next one.  W3C is considering implementing DMCA-like controls on intellectual property that could make it impossible for other startups to get off the ground.   Unlocking a digital “Medeco cylinder” even for your own use can be a crime.  Doctorow points out that much of Hollywood’s resistance to Netflix in the beginning was not only resistance to new forms of distribution (competing with theaters) but also opening up new avenues for independent film, that would compete with shopping mall multiplex fare. Slowly, legacy industry adjusts.  Indie directors finally get attention of major studios (like Jeff Nichols and Warner Brothers – “Midnight Special”), and legacy theater chains have to innovate and remodel, offering reclining seats (AMC and Regal) or good food (Landmark, Angelika and Alamo Drafthouse), driven from below by “newbie” competition.

Robert Levine has a significant op-ed in the New York Times Tuesday April 5, 2016, p. A25, “Hulkster, his Privacy and Ours” (somehow I think of the movie, “Yours, Mine and Ours”, one of my late mother’s favorites back in 1968.) Levine notes that technology has moved the bar on privacy a lot more than old ideas of newsworthiness.  More significant is his noting that user generated content can launch anyone into “public figure” status (and confer a "right of publicity").  That brings up other questions – like Wikipedia’s idea of “notability” before an article on someone is allowed, and Facebook’s use of “public figure” pages in lieu of traditional “friending” accounts – and I’m not sure right now on what all the rules are, if any.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Community service as a graduation requirement; maybe this does build some social resilience

The Metro page of the Washington Post confronts us Monday morning with a story by Domma St. George, “A surge in hours of service to graduate”, online more blunt “Who needs the beach? Spring break means community service for some

Making a community service requirement for high school graduation has been controversial, but it happens in Maryland, a blue state with a very moderate Republican governor, Larry Hogan, who has learned some personal humility with his own bout with cancer. Maryland has also produced one of America’s most talented teens, Jack Andraka, now at Stanford.  Ten years from now, Larry Hogan may be Jack’s patient. Yup, that requires medical school, stepping out of the spotlight for a while, and a unifocal purpose – and actual service.  (Jack related on Twitter recently that he had learned “the hard way” what it’s like to be a patient for a few days. It can even feel humiliating.)
Is forced service a kind of “conscription” or taking turns at forced servitude, in the style of Mao’s Cultural Revolution? I think it certainly is a step toward equality, in a personalized way.  If others know that “everyone serves”, then some others may have more reason to believe in the system.  This has major security implications.

Above, in Washington state, in 2013, a high school teacher (Steve Bergquist) and state representative gives his own personal account with the idea of service as a graduation requirement.

But service, just when it fits your schedule and doesn’t demand or cost anything, probably doesn’t accomplish much.  Not all service events need the quantity of volunteers they try to recruit (and that goes for the monthly Community Assistance at Mt. Olivet Methodist Church in Arlingotn VA).  I caught a glimpse yesterday at the community garden, where volunteered were dedicated to low-tech, labor intensive service growing organic food.  There is a socialization, of sometimes letting the group be more important than the self, and of simply belonging.

The same sort of thing happened at the pot luck Sunday at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC.  The new pastor asked for everyone to sit at a table with some people they don’t know.  We used nametags, and have never done that before.  We were asked to go around the table and give out specifics about ourselves.  I didn’t get to play Pharisee (“do ask, do tell”) because the experience was stopped for a children’s presentation on a charity (World Ark amd Heifer International) providing farm animals to poor populations in Africa.  I've given enough speeches, so the interruption was welcome.  And, true, I'm not fair game to be manipulated into gratuitous social introductions "just for their own sake".
I detect a bit of Amish culture in all of this.  Community service is not necessarily supposed to be “efficient” or totally redemptive of personal rights.  And the idea of expecting it can certainly be abused by religions leaders and politicians.  It can be mixed with unwelcome proselytizing, and in at least rare cases it involves personal risk (as the LDS church about both). It can require interacting with people in ways that are sometimes more “intimate” than usually expected or anticipated or even viewed as normally appropriate with “strangers”.  It may mean accepting people into one’s own life with less expectation of ambition level than when just left to one’s own devices (the old “upward affiliation” problem.)  Most of all, it sometimes means accepting Rick Warren’s idea “it isn’t always about you” but about a larger community.  Otherwise, “you” are simply too vulnerable to things you can’t control, which might include “irrational” hostility from “strangers”.  This idea becomes a moral issue because it demands and builds resilience, which is essential to a community’s surviving big time challenges, even from enemies.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Facebook conscripts me!

Once again, I’m finding what it’s like to have Facebook “organize my life”, notifying me of events I’m supposed to attend.

I’m actually not used to this. But it seems like I’m getting a message I’m supposed to accept more interdependence with others.

Yesterday, there was a volunteer event for the Arlington Food Assistance Center.  I actually didn’t check the address on Facebook, which did say I was supposed to go to the Plot Against Hunger, a garden about a mile away in south Arlington. I got there and found people deep into the group activity of making mulch.  A week ago I could have brought some.  I wound up doing delivery of the fresh spinach back to the Center.