Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Steve Bannon's moral philosophy bears a "shocking" resemblance to my own, but I wouldn't behave the same way in office at all

J. Lester Feder has an interesting interview with Steve Bannon on BuzzFeed, “This is how Steve Bannon sees the entire world”  As a dangerous place, where extreme capitalism has made a lot of enemies.

Indeed, Bannon’s vision does cater to fear, and to expectations of war and hardships imposed by enemies.

But he talks as though some of us have it coming to us.  The talks about two wrong directions for capitalism:  statist (Russia and China, “The Peole’s Republic of Capitalism”), essentially oligarchy, and excessive libertarianism or Ayn Rand-style objectivism.  He says he has some respect for libertarianism.

The notes that working people have been left behind by the “rentier” class (to paraphrase) and also discusses the Crash of 2008 as an example of morally unsupportable forms of capitalism.

But he thinks that capitalism needs some grounding in faith of some sort, because when people are successful they need to give back to make what they have and accomplish meaningful, for the less fortunate.  He also thinks people need religious guidance to do this, because pure intellect alone could rationalize almost any ideology.

Generally, this is similar to the ideas in my DADT-III book, especially the “Epilogue” of the non-fiction part, where I talk about people needing to “step up” to unchosen challenges.

There is a whole system of thought that you need faith when you might take a bullet for someone else – you need some grounding in a group you belong to, some sense of identification to purposes greater than just your own, some kind of belonging.  Because at an individual level “dead is dead” and, indeed, victim-pimping makes no sense.

I may agree with much of his philosophy, but I wouldn’t behave the same way he has in office.  I may agree with some of Trump’s ideas, but I would not test the system to see what I could get away with, or manipulate a voter base with slogans.  I would be much more careful with trade, foreign and military policy, even given a similar ideology.  

Update: Feb. 1

The Washington Post has another article today on Bannon's apocalyptic views on religion which would seem to practically call for a Christian crusade.  I do not share these views of religion "in group think".  I do understand his ideas on how they can affect individuals. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Social media checks at the border?

Border agents have been demanding social media data from visitors and even from American citizens returning home since Donald Trump issued his controversial Executive Order on immigration on January 27, as reported by Sofia Cope of Electronic Frontier Foundation today, here .

One interesting argument advanced by EFF concerns the fact that smart phones access data not physically on the phones but in Cloud accounts.  (My own phone keeps trying to sign me on to it.)  But that argument has a counterparty:  fibbies could also troll cloud accounts for legal violations (like for known child pornography images).

There would also be the possibility that the government would learn a lot more about ordinary civilians at home.  The government could see, for example, that I have attracted an unusual percentage of Muslim Facebook friends and Twitter followers given the nature of my content, and wonder why.

CNN has more details by Jake Tapper here.  At least the development would counter Trump's earlier (2015) threats to shut down parts of the Internet.  Maybe he realizes it can yield real intelligence. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

"Cowardice" now applies to countries more than to individuals

David Brooks lectures us now on “The Politics of Cowardice” , which is how he characterizes Donald Trump’s exploitation of the fear of migrants.

In comparison with the optimism of Ronald Reagan, Trump offers us the morality of necessity, of taking care of your own first, protecting others in your tribe from external enemies in a zero sum world. The Washington Post had characterized Trump’s convention acceptance and now inauguration speech as a depiction of a “nation in peril”.  But I wonder how they would depict FDR after Pearl Harbor.  (By the way, my parents heard about as people got on a train in Philadelphia that Sunday afternoon in 1941.)

Trump says “We can’t take any chances”.

Brooks says that we use the word “coward” for those dominated by fear, but goes on to say that Trump was hardly cowardly in business.

But Brooks points out that Trump is turning economic nationalism, protectionism, and isolationism into a kind of cowardice for the whole country.

FEE has a similar essay by Sean J. Rosenthal, "Banning refugees is cowardice, not vigilance". (Note the homonym on the White House strategist's name -- oh, right, it's "Bannon", not "Banning".) ,  The writer does say that at an individual level bravery (the warrior mentality) is sometimes overrated.

I think the concept bares concept to this discussion of nationalism by Ludwig con Mises on FEE here.
What has changed, though, is that we’ve forgotten how things were in the past, when young men were expected to “protect” women and children within the community, and a failure to do so was seen as “cowardice”.  Remember the days of the male-only military draft.

I face that question as I contemplate the “risks” of hosting an asylee.  I was asked if I were not a “man of faith.”

There is, though, a double edge to being nudged to walk into the potential path of someone else’s bullet. It’s appropriate to put all the risks (especially legal and liability-related) on the table.  When one suggests that others should join you with sacrifice, it’s important to understand what you are asking for.  There is a tendency to think that joining a group or movement will protect you.  I don’t do thinks anymore as part of a “group”.  If something happens, I will walk in another’s shoes indeed.

Yet, as I said in Chapter 6 of my own DADT-III book, sometimes it is morally necessary to “step up”, even at risk to oneself.  I probably didn’t consider the “taking a bullet” idea as much as I might have.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Klein, Sullivan tee off on "blogging" v. "social media"

Back in early 2015, Ezra Klein of Vox and Andrew Sullivan wrote pieces comparing conventional blogging with modern social media.

Klein  and Sullivan  set up a reflexive loop.

Blogging was seen as an online conversation (if it attracts comments) that draws loyal readers who will remember a particular column or thread as if it were a “brand”.  Social media does the news curation and aggregation, often with seasoning by sponsored content.

But of course both may tend to preach to their own choirs.  And social media may finally impose some discipline on blogging by evaluating it for fake news.

I can remember back in 2004 an article “the coming crackdown on blogging” as threatened by the Campaign Finance Reform act of 2002.  It blew over.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trump's obsession with crowd size at his Inauguration leads to his characterization of journalists before the CIA

Donald Trump, on his second day in office, blasted the media in a way shocking, to me at least.
Sean Spicer held a sudden press conference at 4 PM Saturday, as an “emergency” where he took no questions and “no prisoners”, to warn the press about disloyal reporting, as in this New York Times story by Glenn Thrush.  Most of the briefing had to do with Inauguration Day crowd size, which seems like a trivial topic.

Then, when talking to the CIA at Langley, Trump seemed, while reversing an earlier silly statement, seemed obsessed with reporters as “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”  Why would a profession based on objectivity and not publicly taking sides be predicted pm dishonesty.  This betrays an authoritarian mind set that fears any rupture in his fa├žade (where he “creates” truth) will undermine national identity and popular loyalty, needed for stability.  It’s a theory of propaganda we hear from Valdimir Putin.

A “running war with the media” indeed.  Yet his enemy right now seems to be the established media.
He hasn’t really said yet he is afraid of bloggers, although I’ve argued he could find plenty of reason to in the future.

Maybe Trump buys the idea that journalists are just spectators turned critics (like in the movie "Rebirth") and "don't play".  Ask Bob Woodruff, after recovering from his severe head injury from reporting in Iraq.  With conflict journalism, you pay your dues.

Update: Jan. 21

Kelly Ann Conway offered an oxymoron to the press, "alternative facts".  Rick Sincere weights in here.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"A Tale of Two Washingtons" as Trump becomes president

Trey Yingst, of OAN News now, has shot an 8-minute video of the protests in Washington DC.
Here is the best link is either my timeline on Facebook here  or Trey’s official professional Facebook page here.   Keep in mind that with time these posts get pushed down the FIFO stack by newer entries.  I could informally call this a “Do Ask Do Tell Films” release.

Yup, I’ve got to get my own video skills up, as I have a few to make soon, as I outlined Dec. 31.

I stayed home because I thought it would be easier to watch Trump’s speech (see my “Major Issues Blog”)  Around 2:15 or so, NBC4 and WJLA7 started showing protests in downtown Washington DC, in an area from 14th and K (Franklin Park, near McPherson Square) to about 12th and I, just north of Metro Center.  I saw Capitol Police in the video, but DC police and possibly Metro Transit Police would have been needed.

One protestor had a sign protesting Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and, yes, it’s morally wrong to take land from other people by force.

As of 5:45 PM there are still reports of disruption.  This sort of thing could cause Trump to start behaving more like a strong-man, I fear.

To quote Trump: "We are transferring power and giving it back to you, the people."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, while disturbing and "fake", also pose free speech issues

The New York Times is reporting several disturbing incidents regarding “conspiracy theories” or fake news and the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.  The article, by Frances Robles, is here.

A woman has been charged with making threats while “trolling” one of the parents.

And a blogger had a Wordpress blog about it taken down by Automattic, and then claims that Bluehost (after he apparently put is up on hosted space) has removed images of one of the child victims based on copyright claims of one of the parents, when the blogger claimed Fair Use, and the hosting company probably acted under a conservative use of DMCA Safe Harbor.  In my experience (as with this platform), it is unusual for blogs to be removed for offensive content, but will be removed for flagrant "terms of service" violations (or if "spam", which was a big issue back in 2008).  Nitecruz has talked about this on "The Real Blogger Status".

The parent is Lenny Pozner, who wrote a book about the conspiracy theories.  The blogger is James E, Tracy, a communications professor at Florida Atlantic University who claims he was also fired.  I can’t find the book on Amazon, but there is discussion in this article by Rieves Wiedeman in New York Magazine, here.

His blog seems to be “memoryholeblog.com” which the visitor can visit if she likes.

While I don’t like the behavior of some of the parties described in the story, the free speech implciations are still serious.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trump, authoritarianism, propaganda, and controlling rumor mongering; more on the limits of individualism

Margaret Sullivan has a strong column on the Washington Post this morning, in the Style section, “How BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing ‘salacious’ dossier on Trump”.   She notes that Slate went on with even more materials   Then mentality is “when in doubt, publish”.

Then the bloggers like me pick it up, because we gain visibility (and ad clicks) if we do so,

Trump, recall, wants to change libel laws.  He says that publishing of even linking to or pointing to defamatory information deliberately for personal satisfaction is, on its face, harmful, and that we should have a system like in Britain where the defendant has to prove truth.

It is possible to get sued for hyperlinks to defamatory material (and there is a suit against some doomsday prepper bloggers in this regard) although so far that’s been uncommon in practice.  This could change.  Defamatory material tends to attract readers “in their own bubbles” on both the far Left and far Right (particularly).

But the Wall Street Journal this morning, in a story by Bradley Hope et al,  says that former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele (pay attention to the name) is reported, by reputable third parties, to have prepared the dossier on Russian spying on Trump.   There could very well be spies in other countries, not just Russia (Trump is right about that).

I also wanted to pass along David Brooks’s NYT column “Bannon v. Trump”  where Brooks explains the psychology of cultural nationalism and populism, as a reaction to hyperindividualism, and Ayn Rand-like ideas that leave a lot of people out. I don’t buy a lot of this, but why is for another time.  But Bannon has a point that nationalism and statecraft is an answer to the dangers of asymmetry.

Picture: Yes, the Nationals need to get busy and find a closer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

BuzzFeed's release of unverified Russian-hacks (compared to CNN's story) raises amateurism issue

Donald Trump talked about the intelligence briefing and the supposed Russian dirt on him at the press conference this morning.

CNN has already said that it did not publish the actual unverified or un-fact-checked detailed contents of the memos, but BuzzFeed had done so.

CNN just reiterated that right now, but it had said this twelve hours ago in an article by Dylan Byers, as well as a video, here.

The schism here seems to draw a question in amateurism on the web.  Less established by provocative sites gain more attention, with material (often YouTube videos) that goes viral, and now influences voters.  But the “amateurism” effect could affect election propaganda as much as a foreign adversary (like Russia).

The BuzzFeed story is here. The Document Cloud copy of the memos is here. Trump’s tweet, “FAKE NEWS. A total political witchhunt” follows.  So, here I go, spreading rumors myself (like with an incident in 9th grade).  Call me into the principal’s office and send me to an alternative school for making bad choices.

The New York Times has some "revelatory" analysis, however, in a piece by Sydney Ember and Michael Grynbaum
Yet, Trump tends to blame the large news outlets for the smears, not small sites of individual bloggers.  In Turkey, for example, it can be much worse for the small fry.

Update: later 1/11

AOL reports that 4chan users might have planted the salacious documents, story.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Libel lawsuit over "credit" for inventing email; note on important Section 230 cases (right of publicity, Backpage)

There is a lawsuit against TechDirt founder Mike Masnick for a blog post in which he apparently challenged a claim by Shiva Ayyadurai, that the latter person had “invented” email in 1978.

Ars Technica has the story by David Kravits here.

The same attorney who brought down Gawker is representing the plaintiff in what purports to be a libel case.

Yet, the narrative does suggest that there were messaging systems in place in the 1960s, particularly in universities and the federal government.  Were military orders a kind of email?  Mine (from 1968) are still in my bedroom drawers.  .  ‘

Many data centers had CICS-based messaging systems on their mainframe computer systems in the 1980s, like SYSM, which amounted to inter-office email.  I believe that this existed at Bradford when I started working there in New York City in 1977.

But what really “counts” as “email”?  This whole dispute sounds relatively frivolous, and may well involve "The Opinion Rule" as a defense.  Is claiming karma credit such a big deal?

No, Al Gore didn't invent the Internet.


Later today I wrote a Wordpress blog post about Section 230 and right of publicity, Jason Cross v. Facebook, here.  Could become important in 2017.  Also, the Backpage controversy exploded this week at the Senate hearings.  Details on wordpress here.

Update:  Jan 13

Techdirt says legal costs in defending a frivolous suit could cause it to close.  And Tim Lee of Vox says he started his career there in a tweet this morning.

Update:  Aug. 11

Techdirt is getting donations helping it continue as it defends itself, Arstechnica story by Cyrus Farivar, link. The link for the actual suit is here.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

NY Times story recalls the moral lessons of Vietnam

The New York Times ran a column on p. 6 Sunday January 8, 2017 by former Marine Corps Lieutenant Karl Marlentes, “Vietnam ’67: The War That Killed Trust”.  He provides a caption, very relevant to my own books (especially the first “Do Ask Do Tell”), “Vietnam still shapes America, even if most of us are too young to remember it.”  I thought, that’s like saying, the world ended, but we were too sinful to notice.

Marlentes even admits that America was “great” in the 50s and 60s, finishing a great interstate highwat system, building public schools and universities, going into space, putting a man on the Moon, and making progress on civil rights, and passing Medicare, and trying to create a “Great Society”.

Marlentes points out that the military was where men of different races learned how to get along despite different cultures and the bad karma of segregation and slavery.

Marlentes, toward the end, talks about the male-only conscription system, and the college deferment system, admitting they were both “unfair” by today’s standards.  He notes that the current “volunteer” system exploits the poor, who supply a disproportionate portion of the casualties.  He also makes a case for national service.  I can see, for example, that you could set up service as a graduation requirement, and also use it to pare back on student debt.  The draft provides a historical lesson in how we shared existential personal risk. and the resilience we need to deal with it.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

I had a meeting today on possibly becoming an asylum host; here is where things stand

Today, after a long series of intermittent contact, I had a meeting at DC Center Global concerning the possibility of my hosting an LGBT asylum seeker, in the U Street area of Washington DC.

The details would be very sensitive, so I’ll just make some summary notes.  At the moment, the prospect of my doing so is inconclusive.

There is a small number of asylum seekers (male and female) hosted in Washington DC and nearby Maryland and Virginia.  Some are hosted by couples (which can include female couples and straight couples).  Sometimes more than one asylum seeker is hosted in a household.   Asylum seekers can come from Russia, sub-Saharan African, the Middle East, Central America, and less often Asia.
  They may be female and in rarer cases transgender.

Asylum seekers often have expired visas, and are required to have applied within a year of arrival.

During first nine months or so they generally are not allowed to work or receive government benefits and are dependent on private sources.  Once their asylum applications are approved (which takes a very long time usually) they have the same access to benefits as pre-screened refugees.  In the LGBTQ need area, most asylum seekers faced arrest or physical threats before they arrived in the US, even though they arrived legally with visas.  Asylum seekers must be cautious with the timing of requests for asylum, after arrival and need legal assistance with this (it gets variable and complicated).  Some asylum seekers with no resources to wind up in homeless shelters but they don't usually return home if they face prosecution, so potential hosts don't have "life and death" powers if confronted by pleads.

Generally, many asylum seekers have some savings, and get private (not government) benefits in the way of metro cards and coupons or vouchers for good and groceries.  In Washington, HIV services are usually available from Whitman Walker and health plans for general purposes are possible.  In other jurisdiction, it sounds like it is possible for some health care expenses not to be covered.  A provider might pursue a host, and it is unclear (depending on the state) what could happen.  But in some cases (outside of the District of Columbia or of some other major cities) hosts are taking on some “risk” of responsibility for asylees as partial dependents, probably without tax benefits.

Obviously, sociability of the host can matter.  Hosts have considerable discretion in setting ground rules on their property, like with respect to issues such as smoking.

Asylum seekers need Internet access.  Normally they already own their own laptops and smartphones.  I raised the issue that there are ambiguous concerns over host liability for misuse of an Internet WiFi connection, including copyright infringement (for illegal downloads) or viewing illegal content (child pornography), where law enforcement and content owners have increasingly effective and automated ways to detect violations.  Some of these concerns could be faced by AirBNB hosts, or hotels offering WiFi (as most do).  There are some possible solutions (such as guest router settings) that I have started to look into.  Possibly the asylum seeker could use the hot spot on his own smart phone or iPad, if possible, or a separate hot spot could be purchased.   I’ll report later in detail on how some of these solutions could work on a Wordpress blog. This is an evolving issue.  It does need to be resolved.  Another complication could be that an asylum seeker wants to use TOR to communicate to relatives back home in a secure way for completely legitimate reasons.

It would be highly desirable if social service agencies working with refugees could work with asylum seekers.  Generally they cannot, because they don’t get any government reimbursement for supervising the assistance process.  So asylum assistance is almost entirely private.

Housing hosts or “sponsors” of asylum seekers can be taking some personal risk, which some people would see as matters of “faith”, or as fair sharing of risks, which I have presented before as a fundamental moral issue (even going back to the arguments I have made about conscription, deferments, and DADT).  A host’s own employment, retirement, financial resources, and possible inheritance (along with any other family issues or “dead hand”) can be relevant.  It is helpful to be familiar with some of the parties involved for a while before agreeing to host, if this is possible (just as one is usually more prepared to offer hospitality to someone one already knows).  The Internet liability problem needs more attention for risk mitigation.

I can understand that I could sound incredulous.  If I'm willing to allow someone to have a key to the house, isn't that a bigger risk than what could happen on a computer?  Is this simply an issue of trust, or of belonging and having access to enough social capital?

As a matter of record, I did stumble on an unusual plea in a non-immigrant situation Friday;  this hasn't happened since 1980.  I have also heard the legal opinion expressed that no one should ever give his keys to his home to a person without resources because the risk is all "yours" -- but isn't that part of the moral debate over inequality?

Monday, January 02, 2017

Mobile blogging with AMP will help some small businesses

I haven’t yet paid much attention to this, but Google has sponsored and introduced a mobile blogging facility called Accelerate Mobile Pages, or AMP, which it describes here as the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project .  The point of the facility is to encourage much faster loading of websites on mobile devices

Wired has a good story by Kent Flinley from Feb. 25, 2016, explaining how the stripped down HTML works  Only limited javascript is allowed, but some special javascript features are used to place ads.

The article indicates that AMP pages generally rank higher in Google search results, although that diverts from the idea that Google is indexing the rest of the world (and maybe the universe), not just itself.

There is a plugin for Wordpress, and it is possible to convert Wordpress (and presumably Blogger) sites to this format.   But Wired reports that the appearance would be somewhat drab.

But what I don’t see is a tool that enables easy blogging on a mobile device or tablet itself.  It’s much easier to do with a traditional keyboard and touchpad or mouse.  Furthermore, earlier versions of mobile Blogger, at least, allowed only one such site and it would not have mixed with an account’s other conventional blogs.  I don’t know if this has changed.

A New York Times article by Daisuke Wakabayashi in the Business Day section Monday January 2 discusses the product, here.

My experience is that Wordpress content loads faster on a modern MacBook with Yosemite or later, than it does on a modern PC or laptop with Windows 10.   Speeds on my iPhone are reasonable in a 4G LTE environment. But this sort of product probably works better for relatively simple sites, for meeting quick “niche” commercial needs that consumers are likely to encounter when away from home or office.  It probably wouldn’t help me.

On "Billsmediareviews.com" I got a 98/100 on Mobile friendliness (as from Wordpress), 51/100 on mobile speed, and 56/100 on desktop speed.  The points criticized included browser caching, image optimization, server response time (under control of BlueHost and Automattic, not me), and "render-blocking CSS and Javascript in above-the-fold".

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Trump's reported dislike on people's dependence on computers (instead of each other?)

A worrisome report for New Year’s Day is that President-elect Trump doesn’t like computers.  CNN has a typical story here.

He said they speed things up, but expose us to a lot of danger he can’t control.  He suggested that secure messages be sent be courier.  That may not be so radical:  we still have certified mail and even registered mail with the USPS, and you can’t serve somebody a subpoena (that is, sue somebody or even request a cease-and-desist) or summons by email or smart phone – you have to do it physically – at least by mail, or by hand delivered letter or process server.

I’ve even been skeptical of email advertising and building up email fan lists (something encouraged by “Blogtyrant), partly because of all the malware.  I feel much safer with texts or social media messages (even by Twitter of Facebook).  In fact, on Twitter I prefer to communicate sometimes by private message than a public tweet (although the evidence stays – I don’t like the idea of Snapchat).

I’m use Paypal rarely, as I am used to credit cards, debit cards, and electronic check.  But a few sites (mainly non-profits) insist on stakeholders using Paypal, because it is somehow better for unbanked people, as if to make a political statement of sympathy.

Trump had been reported during the campaign in October as having said he thought people were over-dependent on computers and electronics.  Melania Trump said she wanted to start a new campaign against cyberbullying.

Slate has reported that Trump knows almost nothing about computers, used to having secretaries do his correspondence.  He does tweet by smartphone, but staff does everything else. l   Gizmodo asks if Trump has “ever” used a computer.

Aversion to computer dependence comports with “doomsday prepper” mentality, which I don’t think Trump shares.  But Trump seems to believe people should get their information from chains of social authority than on their own by electronic investigations.  Trump seems to believe in “relational” morality more than pure individualism.

Would this lead to some sort of crackdown on user generated content?  I wonder.

CNN was reporting New Year's Day on Trump's claim to have private information on the Russian hacks (or the election? of the Vermont utility?) that the press doesn't have, and would reveal it Tuesday or Wednesday.  Trump seems to believe that you can't accuse a country of hacking until you could "prove it in court".  (So your need a real-life process server first?)

The Verge (a Vox site), in a paper by Vlad Saviv, gave a discouraging report on the pretentious meeting that Trump had with Silicon Valley executives.
 One sentence caught my eye;  even without net neutrality, why would a telecom provider block Google services?  They didn’t before.