Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ohio teacher "fired" over Facebook post critical of dairy industry, as part of "vegan" advocacy

A teacher, Keith Allison, was fired (contract renewal refused) as a second grade teacher in the Green Local School Board in Smithville, OH, for a personal Facebook page in which he expressed opposition to dairy farming, as connected to his support of vegan diets (supported by Bill Clinton, by the way).  He also defends animal rights.  However, the post had a picture of a farm which the owner, while not named, recognized, and the owner complained. Fox News in Cleveland reports on the matter here .

This does fit into the discussion of speech and “conflict of interest” that I have taken up here, as recently on Dec. 16.  This issue pertains particularly to employees with authority to make decisions about other stakeholders.  In the context I have discussed here before, there would be no conflict if the post had been restricted to a friends’ or followers’ list. I’m not sure from the news reports if it was really “public”.
The YouTube report above maintains that the school system depends on financial support from local farming, and that Allison was told that if he wants to be a teacher, he can’t advocate vegan lifestyles when working in an agricultural area.  Rather silly (and illogical), but legally troubling, if you consider other parallel cases (like mine).
The ACLU says that the post was protected speech from a public employee, and has circulated an email petition.

Picture: Family farm from own family in Ohio, not related to case   

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Does the orca teach us something about socialization and individualism?

I found a Wordpress blog entry on “The Raptor Lab, Devouring Science, One Post at a Time”, that makes a very important point about the “biology” of individualism and, to its opposite, socialization and “the common good”. The post is “Inside the mind of a killer whale: A Q+A with the neuroscientist from ‘Blackfish’”, link here.  For reference, see the review of the film “Blackfish” on my Movies blog, July 29, 2013. It will air on CNN in early 2015.
The orca, or killer whale is a dolphin, although much larger than the familiar bottlenose. The orca (as well as some other dolphins) may be the most intelligent animal on earth besides man, probably outflanking the chimp.  But it comes from the line of herding animals (that include elephants, also very intelligent).  The biological complexity of the orca brain shows that convergent evolution works:  given the right circumstances, extreme intelligence and sophistication is likely to evolve in the universe repeatedly in different way.  Orcas are the “aliens” among us.  We should definitely respect their lives as if they were human. (And, remember, the 19th Century economy depended on whale oil!  No wonder we had a novel like "Moby Dick" which will generate an important film in 2015.) 
The interesting point in the article is that the orca brain seems to have a limbic area processing emotions that has no real counterpart in humans, or primate or even carnivores.  The experience of being an orca is indeed bizarre to a human (more than “Being Malkovitch”).  An orca experiences more than his or her own individual self; it seems to organically connect to its social group and share the fate of the group that is indeed alien to humans.  Of course, it’s also interest that the sonar or whales and dolphins have what amounts to a biological telecommunications network or “Internet”, something that these animals needed to grow biologically because they don’t have hands to make tools easily (and, no, like competitive swimmers, they don’t have chest hair).  Some can sleep with one-half of their brain at a time, which sounds weird.
There may be other biological analogues on socialization:  dogs (and wolves) are much more social than cats (except for lions).  But some insects are very social (bees and ants) to the point that conscious awareness may exsit in the colony but not the individual.  Social loyalty seems to be an important biological adaptation that helps the species as a whole have a future, and it raises “moral” questions for humans. For humans, rooting interest in an athletic team may be a weak analogue to cetacean socialization. So could family and fellowship, which always creates tension with individualism.  Orcas probably have biological genetic variations that make some individuals less "social" (and perceived as weaknesses in the cohesion of the group when facing common threats) just as humans do, so I wonder how pods handle this issue!  We could learn a lot from them. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Self-publishing, expressed integrity, the pressure to conform, and dealing with enemies

Sometime a couple years after I returned “home” (late 2003) to look after Mother, and during the time I had started substitute teaching, Mother said I should keep quiet about what happened to me a few decades before at William and Mary. 

I simply ignored her advice.  She didn’t really get what was going on, who I was being found online.  The William and Mary Expulsion (1961) and the sequence that followed became the basis for my books, and all the activism that followed, the whole second half of my life, and direction that I was following. 
After the incident with my screenplay when I was substitute teaching (toward the end of 2005), however, I gradually became more concerned with an “existential” problem:  my online “attention getting”, by someone who did not have the customary family responsibilities (skin in the game), could attract adversaries and pose a danger to others connected to me.  I, or my content, could be viewed as a “nuisance”.
There are many angles to this discussion. My mother was still OK then, but there had already been controversy over my diligence when she had coronary bypass surgery in 1999.  My attentiveness would become controversial again as she declined starting in 2007, as eventually I hired round the clock caregivers until she passed away at the end of 2010.  Many would say that she was my “family”, but I found the idea troubling because I had not procreated one of my own.
Yet I was being drawn into a “role” as “protector” or responsibility for others that I had not “chosen”, not having ever had sexual intercourse with a woman.  You get the point. I could have been perceived as a mooch, since I was no longer working, except more incidentally at lower wages (as a substitute teacher) and my mother did have the money to "live off of" and pay for her care later.  
Nevertheless, I knew that other material on my domains (even before I started using blogger) could conceivably attract the wrong attention.  For example, I had another screenplay short that demo-ed the issues I faced when my mother did have her surgery.  In a worst case scenario, an adversarial party could have, for example, made threats concerning my mother or her caregivers.  This never happened, but the idea crossed my mind, and even sometimes became a preoccupation. After all the “West Potomac High School Hoax” at the end of 2005 (regarding my "gratuitous" or "nuisance" screenplay "The Sub" that I had posted online publicly) had been bizarre enough.

I recall being told once, at around age 20, that I tended to make "enemies", of a certain kind of less intact person.  This came up on my first job, and in 1962 when I was a patient at NIH, when therapists said "I didn't get the possible consequences of things I say and do" (admitting latent homosexuality -- "pinning a label on myself" -- to a college dean). without addressing the circular thinking of "enemies".  Therapists questioned the wisdom of becoming an "oddball" and attracting ridicule if you couldn't compete normally, especially according to gender norms.  Again, circular thinking at the higher levels, going unchallenged (except by me).  Even my own father said, "To obey is better than to sacrifice", a proverb with a sting and a double meaning. 
I’ve had only one hack, back in 2002, on the old “” domain, two files, one discussing nuclear terrorism.  It was easily repaired from a backup, and never recurred.  An obvious vulnerability at the ISP explained it.  But the point of the attack seems troubling.  Was it to make the actual threat, or to threaten an “ordinary” non-Islamic speaker for his lack of humility?  The hack had bizarre jibberish about Russia and Finland.

Of course, it isn’t hard to see what recent current event stimulates this “reflection”.  The Sony mess, and what we make of it.  There is a parallel.  My screenplay had been seen as gratuitous, unnecessary, and possibly provoking an unspecified student into tempting a teacher into illegal behavior, as well as suggesting that I might be “vulnerable” to an approach.  Why had I been willing online to leak this impression of me?   I could say, if it left that kind of impression, it had been effective and had said something important: older teachers are more vulnerable and more likely to be drawn into trouble than anyone wants to admit.  It needed to be said, even if nobody wanted to hear it. All of this constitutes what I call the "implicit content" issue, all the sudden critical in national security and international politics.  
Flash-forward.  The Sony film “The Interview” is said to be silly, a satire   We’ve seen these before (“The Dictator”, “Team America”).  But the adversary decided that the mere existence of this film constitutes a threat on that adversarial country’s "president's" life.  They consider it as part of a threat from the US, and see anyone participating in making or distributing or even seeing the film as a soldier, a potential enemy.  This doesn’t seem to make sense to us.  It would seem to give Sony filmmakers credit for a lot more “power” than they really have and give the movie a lot more credit for influence than it seems to deserve artistically.  It seems to take normal western thinking about artistic products and flip it around.  Likewise, the school back in 2005 gave my work much more credit for being potentially dangerous or disruptive than one could reasonably believe (today), in hindsight, that it “deserved”.

We could ponder Islamic extremist attacks or threats on media (Jylland Posten Muhammad cartoons, Salman Rushdie. and Theo van Gogh’s “Submission”) in a similar light.  But in this case there is no “threat” in the same light, and no “enticement”;  there is, indeed, the idea that if a religious figure can be “desecrated” in speech anywhere in the world, then the lives (and those of future generations) of a whole global faith becomes meaningless. 
I think the homophobia of the past works in a similar way.  If male homosexuality, even in private, were regarded as acceptable, the whole “meaning” of family life that motivates “straight” people could be undermined.  It seems like negative thinking, and seems self-deprecating today.  But it wasn’t seen that way in 1961 when I was expelled from William and Mary.  I wasn’t really a threat to approach people for unwanted sex.  My freedom was a “threat” to the “meaning” of their entire future heterosexual experience.  That’s what happened to Alan Turing.

Yet, I have sometimes been approached with a message like “conform, keep quiet, don’t make people uncomfortable with themselves or their own flaws, give up your fantasy world and come join us, get saved and converted”. Indeed, there is a certain irony: my own “fantasy world” is not that kind to people who “don’t make it”.

I see all of these threads as interrelated at a psychological, Dr. Phil level. 

You can see where this could be headed.  Enemies from radical causes (where states or rogue, whether communist, fascist, or religious like radical Islam or even extreme right-wing Christianity) could threaten companies over almost any content they find somehow offensive – even in the Sony case, the content was more “provocative” than usual.  They could even target individual artists or citizens, and try to threaten businesses willing to work with them, as a way to make a point about western or secular life. One concern that seems to give a particular context is the concern among many radicals about “unearned” or inherited wealth, as undermining the idea among the less fortunate that “law and order” even makes sense. By the way, the notion that very personalized “communist”( or “fascist”) terrorism could come to our shore has been known since World War II and an idea in a couple of my earlier novel manuscripts. In Europe, both Hilter and Stalin made things very personal.

There’s another angle to this.  An old essay on self-publishing in “Writers Digest” had recommended “Write what other people want”.  Well, I could be hired to ghost write someone else’s story (may one of the other “gays in the military cases”), but telling my own took all the time.  One could say, “you can publish, but don’t talk about THIS” (as a java keyword).  Then none of my work would have any integrity.
But I do get the retort, “but why do we get the news about this from YOU.  There are regular media outlets.  Why don’t you go out, use your life insurance background, sell, so you can return the favor by raising someone else’s disabled kid?”  I get the drift on this idea of payback.  Sometimes these ideas have been floated at me almost as hidden threats. But I can’t provide for anyone else unless my own life and work has integrity.  

I do add nuances to stories that I report, that major media outlets might miss, and I will often add a personal perspective based on incidents in my own life, often from the distant past (without identities of people). But I do get the idea that when it comes from "me", the "purpose" of the speech seems to matter to some people, and make them wonder if they are supposed to act in some way, rather than remain alert.  That is what "implicit content" means.
It doesn't make sense for someone to say, "I can still love you" if I have to go along with extortion (direct or subtle -- conformity) for the sake of "Staying Alive" (John Travolta style, another movie), that is, to "protect" myself or others around me.  You either have honor or you don't (Joe Steffan's book).  You are either worthy or you aren't.  As the song by Otto Blucker starts, "Hiding isn't what we do." 

In fact, there are some details I don’t publish.  I don’t give names and information about non-public people.  There are a few arcane incidents, like some workplace litigation in the middle 1990s, where I can’t go into a lot of detail even now, but I don’t avoid subject matter just because it upsets someone who could become a threat.

There are lines I don’t cross.  Imagine some nightmare scenarios (we don’t need to get carried away, because imagination is endless), like destroy all copies of my "Do Ask, Do Tell" books because someone’s ideology is trampled or someone somehow imagines a threat.  I would not.  I woudn’t be around if I had to. But of course, extortion like that would show that my work really did say something and really did matter to the rest of the wold.  Again, think about the paradox. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If I had become a licensed teacher, could I have gotten around my own "conflict of interest"? I just wanted to see "critical thinking"

I’ll follow up again the issue of the failure of my substitute teaching experience. 

Had I stayed on course, and eventually gotten licensure and become a regular math teacher in high school, could I have dealt with my “conflict of interest” problem?

Again, one of the main concerns was that if students (whom I would have the “power” to grade) had found my “opinions” about other people  embedded in my materials (like the older movie reviews, where I sometimes made juicy remarks about the appearance of actors), that could have shown “prejudice” against students in certain groups. 

In the days before modern social media (and Facebook wasn’t really public until about 2007, and MySpace had come along around 2004), the main Internet experience was indeed finding specific web pages (including mine, which included copies of chapters of my book) from search engines.  You could, for example, search an actor’s name in combination with the word “gay”, or even "hairy chest". I often found such searches on my site's Urchin logs. 

I can certainly understand, particularly with how matters were at the time, a belief that it is inappropriate for a teacher to engage in “gratuitous” online behavior, however legal and innocent and not actually pornographic in the usual sense, that could “divide” people or make some people believe they might be less “worthy” in the speaker’s eyes.  I had thought at the time that people with the power to make decisions about others (whether subordinates, students, or even customers to be underwritten for insurance or loans) should not speak in searchable public modes without supervision or gatekeepers.  That’s where I drew the line.  I did not have the authority to grade students, so I thought I was OK.  This became the “blogging policy” on my “” site.  There had been a lot of talk about employer blogging policies in the 2002-2003 period, especially after Heather Armstrong stirred up the world with her “dooce” site after getting fired for blogging about work.
Social media came along, with the idea that content could be restricted to whitelists, and such content usually didn’t get indexed by search engines, so in my worldview, it wasn’t “published” in the same sense  Of course, whitelisted content often “leaks” and gets repeated by others – and that became the “Dr. Phil Problem” in the 2006-2008 period. 

Social media also made it impossible to lead “double lives”, partly because of Facebook’s “real name” policy, so in time, people became expected to use their entire social media and Internet presence for their employer’s purpose.  I could not have done today what I did fifteen years ago while still working.

And what’s even more interesting is that, in 1997, I did a corporate transfer (within ReliaStar, later to become ING and now Voya) to the Minneapolis location in order to get away from a conflict regarding the company’s selling to military officers, and my publication of a book and Internet materials on the military gay ban (“don’t ask don’t tell”).  (I have more history on Wordpress here  ).
Getting back to teaching, what had been in the back of my mind was to set up an engine to record and collate “opposing viewpoints”, as I had explained here Feb. 29, 2012.  The idea was to get others to make the points I had started them making, and then let the public see the results.  This would be very good for teachings students “critical thinking”.  And the opinions are no longer necessarily mine, so there is no “conflict” or presumption of prejudice.  This sort if approach might be particularly effective with issues like the military gay ban (with its unusual personal sensitiveness, and potential to affect civilian areas, even like dorm life, as had been the case in my life and as would be again, as at Rutgers in 2010, tragically), or with issues like Internet free speech and “barrier to entry”.
I could have worked with Wikipedia.  Of course, that’s usually doesn’t result in public attention for one’s views, and at least there is supervision and gatekeeping (more now at Wikipedia than used to be).
And I could have continued working offline on my novel, screenplays and music. In 2004, remember, I had entered Project Greenlight II with a sci-fi screenplay.  That presented no conflict.  

Even so, in the 2004-2005 period, before I got into today’s blogging platforms and social media, there was reason to think I might be able to thread my writing career with teaching after all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Had I "stepped up" as a sub teaching a middle school band class, I might be doing better now

As I went through some of my Sibelius 7 scores, I found one for chamber orchestra called “test” and it looked like a few measures for a jazz quartet.  I don’t remember keying this in, and it might be a sample from Sibelius.  The parts look handwritten, as is common in symphony scores.

The object reminded me of my “failure” when doing a substitute teaching assignment for a middle school band class in January 2005.  I described this on the Drama Blog on Oct. 17, 2008, and to some extent on this blog on July 25, 2007.

So why should it have been so hard to stand up in front of the band class, on a conductor’s podium, read an orchestral score (of the “Prehistoric Suite”) and actually conduct the kids, since the regular teacher had failed to specify a student conductor for these less mature classes.  I needed to do this nine days in a row.

Maybe the students would balk when I got it wrong, but I think my merely standing there would have helped control the situation. 

It would have vindicated that my nine years of piano had meant something, even if band is quite different. 

Just look at the score and follow it.  And point.  It can’t be that hard.

Had I “stepped up” to the challenge, maybe teaching would have been a go.  History would have gone differently.  I probably would have toned down my Internet postings, and never pubbed “The Sub”.  The whole “implicit content” incident (related July 27) – the equivalent of mixing the SCOTUS Elonis case (Dec. 1) with “The Interview” (and raising similar questions about global Internet broadcast to impressionable, susceptible and easily tempted audience) would have been sidestepped.

And my own effort to produce my own music now might be further along. I must say, I wonder about the bizarre emails that sometimes show up asking about a piano teacher (even one cell phone call).  If it's a scam, I don't see how it works. 

As for the "opportunity" to conduct a student orchestra with zero training, think about it.  It seems ugly, but it’s a lot better than hucksterizing concert tickets (which some music majors have to do).  It’s better than driving a cab (or now Uber).  It’s better than the physical job of letter carrying.

Only Chairman Mao (and Kim Jong-un, who looks so foppish in his mug shots) would not have approved. Remember, the Left is usually far more moralistic than the Right. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

DOJ lightens up on letting NY Times reporter and CBS producer protect sources after CIA leak

There is some reassurance for professional (at least) journalists in the decision by Eric Holder not to subpoena New York Times reporter James Risen, at least to give confidential sources, in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official. The story by Sari Horwitz is here.  Risen authored the book “State of War”.  NBC has a similar story by justice reporter Pete Williams here

The story may seem more politically compelling because of the recent report on CIA abuses, but it isn’t directly related.

Apparently the DOJ also reversed itself and decided not to subpoena a CBS producer, Richard Bonin.
It is very unlikely that protections would apply to amateur bloggers, when they somehow come into contact with classified information, which probably happens more often than is generally realized.  I contacted authorities several times on unsolicited (non-spam) items emailed to me in the years after 9-11.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do "real men" take foolish risks to "protect" others?

Here’s a little story that says a lot about me, from Vox: “Men are much more likely than women to take truly idiotic risks that cost their lives, by Joshua Stromberg, on Vox, here. Case in point, look art the behavior last summer of Washington Nationals's outfielder Jayson Werth, here. 
I was very different from this daredevil model as a boy.  I wondered why boys bash themselves playing football.  I did develop a liking for softball and following baseball because of the physics of the game.   I had trouble learning to ride a bicycle, and today wonder when I see kids riding the wrong way or run lights, making drivers unable to see them when turning until too late. 

My father always noted that I had an unusual objection to “getting hurt”.   That seems selfish.  Boys, in becoming men, were supposed to join together and fight to protect women and children. You see that now, overseas. I resented it.  Women seemed privileged.

What caused all this.  Was I “autistic”?  Maybe.  I was good at my own things, piano and books, and my brain pruned away all distractions early.  I would admire men who were smart but better at everything. That’s the “Clark Kent” effect (or maybe Ashton Kutcher).  All of this would get to be viewed as a moral and character problem, because, in a world that supported a military draft, I was leaving the risk taking for others and cheating the system.

Later, when I became self-published, others who used not to be within my sight horizon and not my “business”, would knock on the door and try to get me to adopt their goals.  All a very interesting progression. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Abbey House case deals with "contributory infringement" by encouraging removal of DRM, in complicated case embedded in "price fixing"

There is a very complicated case where an e-book seller Abbey House (once known as Books on Board) got into a dispute with Apple and several book publishers, including Simon and Shuster, claiming that “price fixing” effectively drove it out of business.  Antitrust ideas aside (you study that in US History), another controversy occurred with Abbey House provided consumers with directions as to how to remove DRM so that consumers could read the books even if the company went out of business.
The details are in a report in “Courthouse News” by William Dotinga, here

 The federal judge Denise Cote (New York) ruled that Abbey had not “induced infringement” or participated in “contributory infringement”.  Users were simply enable to use something they had paid for on another device.  The actual opinion is here. There has been plenty of litigation over the idea that a business whose model is to promote infringement (most often in a P2P context) might well be guilty of a contributory infringement tort – unless there are credible non-infringing uses for the business.  Then an interesting moral question is whether the non-infringing uses could support the business alone.  You could extend this kind of thinking into the “free content” debate. 

This whole problem is at least tangentially related to the controversy involving Amazon, Hachette, and many of its book authors. Keith Gessen reports (“The War of the Words”) this on page 162 of the December 2014 Vanity Fair, here
In the meantime, I wonder how many writers really make a living from just that (see Book reviews blog, Aug. 8, 2014).

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

EFF still critical of possible WIPO treaty that would let broadcasters get around normal copyright law limitations

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an article by Jeremy Malcolm, warns that broadcasting companies are still trying to get the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to draft a treaty that would give broadcasters post-air rights that transcend normal copyright law and fair use, link here.  Among the demands are the right to stop the use of open source products in watching rebroadcasts or time-shifted.
The latest draft of the proposed treaty is here
Youtube, however, does contain some videos concerning helping the disabled use content.

In my own practice, I’ve noticed that video clips from programs that are authorized on YouTube for embed often go “private” shortly thereafter.   I don’t know why. 

Update: Dec 10

The Guardian Australia reports that Australia plans aggressive blocking of overseas sites that facilitate infringement, here

Monday, December 08, 2014

My concern is the loss of "critical thinking" before people "act up" in the streets -- oh, really?

A long series of detailed newspaper accounts, such as one today in the Washington Post by Marc Fisher and others, “In three minutes, two lives collide and a nation divides over Ferguson shooting” (link) illustrate some conflicting points.  People tend to see what they want to see or believe they will see, as witnesses.  But this and many other articles explain how the physical and forensic evidence support the idea that Michael Brown, while unarmed, really did confront officer Darren Wilson directly (even "unbelievably"), after behaving aggressively in a retail store.  One can believe, as his family reports, that this is out of character, and wonder why it happened, but it seems clear that it did happen.  (White men, like James Holmes, have suddenly behaved out of character, too.)  One can certainly question whether Wilson’s action, firing many rounds, was necessary for self-defense.  One can question many things.  In Brown's case, unusual reaction to THC sounds possible. 

It’s also true that some other cases, especially Eric Garner in New York, as well as other incidents in Ohio, Arizona, and perhaps Utah may well turn out to be more convincing examples of criminal behavior by polices officers, possibly racially based, than Wilson’s.

I certainly support the peaceful demonstrations against police profiling and abuses.  But some of the behavior goes way beyond anything morally connected to the facts. 
In our country, it is unacceptable and unconscionable that someone (Darren Wilson) should live in hiding when the facts simply don’t support his guilt or cupability (at least of an intentional crime). Agreed, in other incidents, individual police officers may be more deserving of accountability, but what has happened in the Missouri case is simply unbelievable in a civilized nation.

One of my own reasons for writing and blogging independently is to support critical thinking, not blind emotion and revenge. 
I’ve been around people calling for forceful expropriation and “revolution”, especially in my young adulthood.  I’ve heard people say scary things in person.  I’ve seen people view their own peers, only slightly better off than them, as “enemies”, instead of the real “carpbetbaggers”.   On a certain psychological level, all “revolutionary” behavior is similar, whether founded in religion or economics or some combination of both. 
And I’m certainly aware of the past, and of the fact that race often (not always) puts some people “ahead in line” of others.  In fact, I’ve seen some segments of the film “American Lynching” by the late Gode Davis (from Rhode Island), and I am looking into what it would take to get this film, and some other similarly spirited projects, commercially produced and completed.  The idea of forcing people formerly privileged to "trade places" with others is frankly Maoist (but that's what the communist "cultural revolution" in China in the 1960s was all about).  

Yet, when you take the fall for one else’s need for vengeance, you are paying for the sins of others, perhaps sometimes as a result of insularity or indifference. There is no point in talking about victimhood.  Yes, I can see how this leads to a need for Grace.  

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Rolling Stone fiasco over UVa story has a lesson for bloggers; more on embeds

After the University of Virginia in Charlottesville put the (at least temporary) brakes on fraternities after a Rolling Stone story, questions have arisen about the accuracy of the story.  Paul Fahri in the Washington Post writes today in the Style section, “A failure to follow tenets of reporting”, link here. Onine his title is more telling: “Author of Rolling Stone article on U. va. Rape didn’t talk to accused perpetrators.”  Fahri discusses the responsibilities of journalists for basic fact checking after getting a scoop for a controversial story, particularly for playing “devil’s advocate” as to credibility. 
Rolling Stone has issued an apology concerning the story (“A Rape on Campus”) by Sabrina Rubin Erderly, link here and admits to the possibility of discrepancies in “Jackie’s” account.  RS even updated its apology with a fourth paragraph!
How does this lesson apply to “amateur” bloggers?  I do try to report news that I uncover myself, and, yes, I am aware of the need to question the credibility of information that may come my way.  There can be legal consequences, of course, for not doing so.  I think a more testing question comes up with reporting a story that appears in some media but that hasn’t been widely reported everywhere.  These sorts of stories my get more page requests, but they may involve more risk.  As I’ve reported before, there is some controversy over whether hyperlinking to a false defamatory story could involve a secondary liability risk.  Usually, no, but sometimes it has.  As with a recent somewhat dubious story on one Washington DC television station about a supposed incident in a gay bar, I did provide the link but also questioned whether the story was likely to be correct as reported.  
You could say the same about some of the reporting about police misbehavior and the public outcry and demonstrations.  In the beginning, there just was not enough attention given to the possibility that police officer Darren Wilson’s account might actually be correct.  Why it’s clear that there are serious problems with police behavior with minorities and criminal justice procedures (especially the way grand juries work – and that could affect me some day if I get called to be on one), the destructive (and indignant) behavior after especially the Ferguson case is totally unwarranted by the real facts.  
I also want to take a moment to update a story about embeds and copyright.  I had given reference to an Ars Technica article by Tim Lee on the subject on an April 10, 2014 posting; there is a more recent article in August from the Seventh Circuit here. But this subject needs to be watched carefully.   

I still notice that occasionally, embeds of videos that look OK to me at first stop working quickly because of copyright claims, which are hard to predict.  

Friday, December 05, 2014

Even talk of a carry-on electronics ban for flights highlights need for "infrastructure rental" services on the ground

There were news stories earlier this week to the effect that Homeland Security (as well as corresponding agency in the UK) was considering a ban on carry on luggage and electronics, at least through the Christmas holiday, on all international flights and possibly all domestic flights. 
Jeh Johnson, DHS Secretary, said, no, that would not happen now, to Eric Bradner and Jake Tapper of CNN, news story here.   But he did not rule out that it could happen in the future, if intelligence on terror threats from unconventional explosives on planes gets more specific.
There had been other suggestions (which I posted in my International blog Dec. 1), that passenger electronics be put in a “cargo hold” area near checked baggage, where they would undergo closer scrutiny. No one could say where the electronics would be likely to be damaged (what about air temperatures in cargo areas at high altitude?) or stolen.  For the longest trips between large cities, some passengers might be able to ship their gear UPS-air (as some do with checked baggage now).
All of this is very ironic, given that only a few months ago we debated whether passengers should be allowed to use electronics during take-off and landing (see network neutrality blog, Nov. 13, 2013).  Also, a few months ago the TSA said that uncharged electronics would not be allowed on some flights, which could cause a passenger to miss a flight if some accident happened and the devices did not boot up.  (That requirement sometimes existed before 9/11 but was dropped.)
Give the way I work, I typically have to stay connected when I travel.  I don’t have a company doing this for me.  I have to manage my own infrastructure, so I am vulnerable to mishaps.
I’ve traveled four round trips by air, all domestic, since the start of 2011, after my mother died (when I was already 67), from the DC-Balt area to the Twin Cities, DFW, LA, and Atlanta.  Each time I’ve carried a small notebook (Toshiba, which got slow at home, and replaced with a Gateway), and an older iPad as a hotspot.  Yes, I could travel lighter with a newer iPad, or use the iPhone now as hotspot.  I might try that.  I need a keyboard, although it might be that some 3rd party addons to the iPad could make a PC less necessary. Everything has worked so far on all four trips (had a close call in Texas). 

At the beginning of 2011, when I worked for Census, I had to carry two computers, one for personal use as well as business, when I went to Charlotte for training.  So I drove rather than flew. 
Since airline reservations are often made weeks in advance, even talk of a ban on carryon electronics could stop me from trying to make them at all.  This has to be very bad for airlines.  I’m not the only one who feels this way.
So I think we need some real leadership – get tech companies and airlines (and a lot of systems developers and programmers) together and see if there is a way to help passengers travel.  Once concept could be “infrastructure rental”.  This might be tried overseas first (at least in the UK and other EU or western countries), where security concerns are biggest, and where technical issues (like different conventions for electricity transformers) already exist.  The idea is that you rent a PC (it could be Windows or Mac), with some variable rates depending on add-ons (like Microsoft Office, Adobe).  You also get the appropriate charger and hotspot hardware.  You take the responsibility for having a cloud account to save data (and the Cloud companies, like Apple, Carbonite or Webroot, would have to be prepared to accept rented computers).  You rent the “infrastructure” the same way you rent a car, and the arrangements are made through the airline or sites like Priceline.  When you turn in the computer, the rental company (which might even be something like Best Buy or Geek Squad) scrubs the computer and refreshes it with a rescue disk, meaning it is clean for the next customer.  There have to be some legal details, like the agreement not to use it for illegal purposes (like child pornography).
It is accepted practice to rent cell phones overseas, and there are some sites that discuss it.  A few companies may rent iPads, but some say that they rent only to other companies, not individuals.  This service would need to be usable for individuals for personal or “entrepreneurial” (as long as lawful) use, not just corporate.
Companies would only be interested in investing in such a model if it passed the Shark Tank:  there has to be demand.  That is only likely of airlines and governments actually have consistent and predictable policies on electronics security, and don’t change policies after the latest terror rumor.  Of course, flying would be even less fun, but when you got to your destination, you could be sure you could get your work done, if you were on your own (not going to an office). 
Biggest hotels have business centers, but usually only a few work stations with erratic response.  FedEx Kinkos might be OK, but there are questions about security in using any public computer unless it is going to be scrubbed. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Utah benefits startup caught in controversy over "free content"

The Utah insurance commissioner has penalized a startup, Zenefits, for offering free access to a portion of its website that offers health (and probably life) insurance as an employee benefit.  Presumably employees and employers could avoid dealing with agents who operate in a more conventional way.
Regulators say that it is against Utah law to offer “inducements” to purchase insurance.  So apparently it would be legal in Utah for employees to work only through their employer’s human resources to purchase insurance.  I once worked on a salary deduction system for employee insurance benefits in the 1990s, so I know how the process works pretty well (from supporting the system for three years). 
There’s another context in which the story is disturbing. A lot of “novices” offer content for “free”, and sometimes older companies look at this as threatening.  There were a few trademark suits over domain names before 2000 from companies that had not yet set up their own websites to grab the domain names.  They weren’t with it enough to do this. News business and media may feel some pressure from “amateur” bloggers who get stores before they do.  Movie studios could feel undercut by indie films with no budgets, as much as they are hurt by piracy.  But in the movie industry, there are actual SAG rules that control how actors work in lower budget films. 
The Utah news story by Timothy B Lee is on Vox, here. Vox, as I’ve noted, has an interesting approach to “categorizing the news” (especially in its yellow-banner “card stacks”) so that readers are made more aware of lesser understood arguments on controversial or polarizing issues.  

What is in life is still "free"? 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

BMG sues Cox in DMCA Safe Harbor case, saying customer should have been terminated

The Safe Harbor provision of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protects ISP’s and service providers from downstream liability only when they will terminate repeat infringers.  That’s why embedded videos from YouTube sometimes stop working, with a message (when you try to play the video) that the account was terminated because of repeat copyright violations. 
That’s also one reason why I make my own YouTube uploads “original content”.  I’m trying to move even further in that direction with plans I have discussed here recently.  I don’t repost classical music (although I will embed it if already posted), and I don’t mix scenes of Will and Sonny (or now Paul and Sonny) from “Days of our Lives” and post them myself.
BMG  music has submitted 54,489 claims to Cox Cable over the number of times a particular customer shared pirated music from this one label.  Apparently the sharing occurred P2P.  Tim Lee has a story on Vox here   BMG is saying that Cox needed to terminate the user. 
YouTube terminates accounts for users who publish copyrighted material (without permission or without Fair Use).  However, the COX case is about downloading and possessing the content in the first place.  Could a cloud service be liable for illegal copies stored privately on servers?
There is a “Copyright Alert” system which more ISP’s could be forced to join, especially if Cox loses.

BMG actually owns the sheet music rights.  It seems as though it could be illegal to record and possess music played in a disco, let alone post it.  (I don’t post audio from discos because that would be infringement, but I think a lot of people do.)  

Monday, December 01, 2014

I go to oral arguments at Supreme Court on the Elonis "Facebook threat" case

Today, I heard part of the oral arguments at the Elonis v. U.S. case on the “Facebook threat” problem (Nov. 24). 

I got there around 10 AM, and the line was only about 50 people.  However, the first case did not empty the hall, and only about ten people got in to hear the whole session.  I got to hear about 5 minutes starting around 11:25 AM. 

On two previous cases, I have visited the Supreme Court from the three-minute line.  On Wednesday March 19, 1997, after standing in wet snow for an hour, I heard some arguments regarding the Communications Decency Act, the censorship portion of which was overturned (the Section 230 portion held, which is a good thing.) In actual fact, I got to hear about 15 minutes of the session, and the part I heard was relatively negative from the free speech portion. 

On Tuesday March 2, 2004 I heard some oral arguments about the second COPA case.  Again, I got to hear about 15 minutes.  Today, I heard less time than on previous occasions.
The portion I heard was ambiguous and inconclusive. 

Jeffrey Toobin explained the issue on CNN Monday afternoon. Toobin said that the DOJ believes that the standard should be, what a reasonable person would interpret as a threat.  However, defense lawyers argue that the intent of the speaker should be considered.  Toobin seemed to feel that the Court was likely to accept the DOJ standard, partly because the consequences of even vague threats can be so grave, as we know from the school rampage cases.
ABC News has a summary of how the hearings went from AP here. The Argument Transcript has been put up early Monday afternoon, here

Justice Kagan seems to ask important questions, particularly about “recklessness”.  Mr. John P. Elwood (representing Elonis) mentioned the “turn or burn” phrase used against abortion providers.  Michael R, Drebeen argued for DOJ. Drebeen did discuss privacy settings and their specific case in speech cases.  Drebeen seems to hint (on p. 34) that speakers should limit the audience of some provocative speech because they know some people will tend to react out of context.  This is related to the “implicit content” problem I have discussed here before. Drebeen also compared laws concerning threats to laws concerning defmation, and “mens rea” (“the intending mind”) got mentioned.  Elwood also discussed a Texas case, Justin Carter, was in jail for four months after a woman in Canada reported a sarcastic threat about a video game “out of context” (p. 9).  There was mention of the Texas “subjective intent” requirement and a prediction that Carte is like to be acquitted (but look at what he had to go through  see “The Dallas Observer” – “The Facebook Comment that Ruined a Life”, by Caig Malisow, here).

One way to increase the benefit of the 3-minute line is to go to lunch in the cafeteria afterward and talk to others who may have heard more.  One attorney said he was impressed when Justice Roberts used the example of Eminen with his rap lyrics (including some that are anti-gay).  However, the attorney felt that the justices should have asked more about the fact that a public social media posting is made to the whole world, and is likely searchable, rather than directed at one person.  I did make a brief summary of my own mishap as a substitute teacher in 2005 (see Nov. 24) and the attorney could indeed see the connection. Was I “reckless”? My situation is different in that it didn’t suggest a threat but could convey a temptation, without a clear “purpose” other than “gratuitous speech” which is what brings back “implicit content”.  

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.