Friday, October 31, 2014

I get started on my video sequence, "on the road"


Yesterday, October 30, 2014, Beggar’s Day, or “Yelloween”, I made some video selfies, first cuts at my planned “Video Sequence” examining the question of diversity, and how those of us who are “different” fit in.  Particularly, I see three big areas: “taking v. acting”, “accomplishment v. service”, and the meaning given to personal intimate relationships (and this bears on sexual orientation).  Remember, I am not easily "recruited" and remain "nobody's tool".  
  
I’ve embedded the first of these (MVI17411).  The other two are 1738 and 1740, and I’ll get to those later. I shot this at Shrine Mont, in Orkney Springs, VA, near the W Va boundary, site of church retreats in the 1960s, where I once hit a real home run in a softball game.  


Yes, I do like citizen journalism, and if I could get into a time machine and start over, I might become a “real journalist”.  But to get anywhere, you have to pay your dues.  That can me conflict reporting, in war areas, or in areas with pandemics.  This involves taking considerable personal risk, as we know from what has happened to those in Syria, reporting on ISIS, and in West Africa, reporting on Ebola.  If I was 30 years old, would I go?  Anderson Cooper, remember paid his dues as a young man reporting in southeast Asia.
  
We know, from the conflict reporting risks and what has happened to journalists, that there are those who see journalism as morally evasive, rather like kibitzing a chess game rather than actually playing it (and risking losing). They see journalists as people who don’t really quite step into the lives of others and take their turns, almost a Maoist view of ethics.  But we also see this reasoning break down, as, for example, humanitarian aid workers and kidnapped and executed in Syria, and as doctors and nurses fighting Ebola are at generally much more risk than most journalists in the area. 






Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Information used to follow social hierarchy; the Internet changed all that, and now "national security" can jeopardize our permissive use of user generated content


The way Vladimir Putin throws around the term “propaganda”, and in fact the explanation my high school government teacher gave for the concept back in 1960, reminds me of the way most people both transmit and receive information, or have done so for most of history. 
  
Generally, people learn and transmit on a “need to know” basis, predicated in their role in the family and in a workplace and a political structure, much of all of this hierarchal.  Until the Internet, with the idea of user-generated content (and very limited downstream liability for service providers) came along in the mid to late 1990s, along with lower costs in traditional book self-publishing, you didn’t get heard by others “globally” until you competed successfully for the right.  You did get heard by people over whom you had authority, or for whom you were responsible.  A lot of people probably wish it still worked that way.  Particularly in authoritarian societies this is even more the case.  It should be no wonder that Putin, then, sees public advocacy of “gay rights” as “propaganda” that could influence young men not to have the children in quantity that “mother Russia” so badly needs.

You could compare Putin's idea to the way security clearances work, based on "need to know".  But that applies to only a tiny fraction of the information that flows in our society. 
   
The biggest value of a plethora of UGC is that all ideas stay on the table, so politicians (and advocacy organizations) are “kept honest” in the arguments they must make to remain partisan for their own constituencies.  Of course, the validity or arguments also depends on the ultimate “big picture” objective.  We’d like it to remain sustainable ordered liberty, with some balance between innovation and underlying fairness.  But some people think mainly about future generations for their own nation or religious creed.  Some groups think that “virtue” and “perfection” are their own valid moral ends.  And sometimes the freedom to speak and self-distribute that we have come to value so much can be turned on themselves to promote what turn out to be totalitarian ends, in the pursuit of some cult of “beauty”. The “logical” antidote to this possibility is that people have some “real” responsibility to others before they are “heard”.

Even before there was the possibility of self-distribution, I had made a personal career of playing devil’s argument.  Back in the 1980s, while living in Dallas, I had made an avocation of writing lots of letters (to newspapers, to the CDC, to politicians and lobby groups, including some hostile to gays) checking on the “logic” of arguments concerning putative future danger of HIV to the general public (the “chain letter amplification” argument circulated by the right wing in those days).  That sort of critical thinking seems to be needed today with other crises, such as obviously Ebola. 
  
People will, with some justification, retort to me that they have real responsibilities for others, which I, because of my schizoid nature in a more individualistic and permissive culture, have been able to avoid while still having some public effect.  Leading my “different life”, I’ve always felt offside, like the observer who is close enough to affect what he watches (just as relativity predicts).
  
A big concern is, of course, that the very asymmetry of UCG that keeps big boys honest and that make social and political hierarchy (and personal loyalty to it) less relevant to “people like me”, also facilitates or magnifies the harm that can be done by those who feel stiffed (genuinely so, sometimes, by inequality of opportunity and exploitation) or those with evil or psychopathic inclinations, when simply prompted to do so by what they can find online, planted right now largely by religious ideologues.  We may be making too much of this (people knew how to make pressure cooker bombs before there was an Internet) but the probability of mischief by “lone wolves” certainly increases in our permissive online culture (however constitutionally protected), especially when enemies are willing to trigger them, almost "Manchurian style".  In fact, right after 9/11, there was another concern, that amateur websites would be targeted to host “steganographic” content planted by hackers to convey instructions for future attacks, but that hasn’t materialized, as terror itself experiences diaspora.  Another idea is that in an asymmetric world, a much wider range of people (and speakers) might be perceived as targets for psychological warfare.  We saw that in a controversial FBI bulletin just last week.
  
I do think there is a “danger” that schemes to reduce the ease of deploying UGC will be proposed as a national security issue, even given constitutional questions (First Amendment) and given the value of trolling UDC for threats.  Perhaps UGC would be limited only to specific “friends” or “followers” lists and that those lists would be limited in a way related to the number of persons someone can really interact with.  Perhaps it would be limited in duration (Snapchat is the ultimate idea) or to content that can “pay for itself” in terms of the willingness of people to pay for it.  Of course, it’s easy to poke “Titanic” holes in proposals like this, and in a sense “the cat’s out of the bag”.  There remains also the question of the jobs and wealth that are generated by supporting UGC, and that seems to be a bit of a mystery in Silicon Valley.  But the times may have never been more dangerous since 9/11, and the Internet is working in both ways now. 




Monday, October 27, 2014

Forbes article says "user generated content is dead". Oh, really?


As I’ve hinted before (Oct. 13),  the recent abuse of social media by ISIS (or ISIL) will generate more debate on the permissive aspect of user-generated content, that is, material “self-published” online, often on social media sites or forums, without gatekeepers or financial accountability.  I saw this rather startling headline on Forbes from July 14, 2014, by Steven Rosenbaum, “User-generated content is dead, as video evolves”, link here. The writer suggests that most amateur content has few visitors and low following and makes little money.  I could probably challenge that claim by rummaging through a lot of amateur YouTube videos that do well (starting with Nora the Cat playing piano), but his point that companies are paying more attention to the quality of their marketing videos is well-taken.  Indeed, a commercial with really attractive people or with interesting actions or perplexing fantasy world-views can be fun to watch.  (A good example: AMC Theaters has an outstanding and realistic video showing a hypothetical outdoor theater on another planet with an extraterrestrial city in the distance, although lately it has replaced it with a newer one made with Coca Cola, whose “Love Bird” character appeared in NYC gay pride this year.) 

  
But it’s possible that content with relatively low number in terms of distinct original visitors or even income can have significant impact on a social or political debate, by “keeping them honest”. 



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Amazon's control of Kindle represents a dilemma for consumers, even self-published authors


Timothy B. Lee has a valuable story on Vox Sunday morning explaining the effect of Amazon’s management of the Kindle device and its leveraging of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), link here .  Lee comments on a Matt Yglesias column on Vox maintaining that Amazon has done the public a favor by “crushing book publishers”.  What about self-publishers like me?

He points out that the law didn’t affect much the ripping of music CD’s (just as a I and a friend used to make tape copies of records back in the 1960s and justified it by the idea that we both bought “so many records” as my father would say).  But DVD’s and other devices like Kindle (and Nook) have anti-copying technology that is protected by law.  Lee notes that it would be now illegal for Apple to add a “rip” feature to iTunes. 

Lee points out that consumers with large collections are confronted with choices between repurchase of material in new protected format, or having many formats.  

Nevertheless, there are legitimate reasons to copy DVD’s.  There is software to rip DVD’s for YouTube postings, but that sounds illegal according to Lee’s article.  I have DVD’s of my family’s home movies from the 1940s.  I own these (or the estate does, which is effectively me now).  But I could run into trouble making YouTube and Vimeo videos of these, which I want to do.


I still wonder why Kindle disappeared for my first two books, leaving overpriced versions of older non-fiction as the only one’s available.  I can address this myself, but wonder is it best to reconvert them to Kindle and Nook myself (possible) or simply offer well-assembled PDF’s.  Tablets now can read Kindle anyway.  I'd like all my works to be on one consistent format.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Many commercial websites still have hyperlink policies


While trying to catch up NBC's “Days of our Lives” today since I was gone, I went to “soaps.com” and was surprised to see a statement after today’s plot summary, “Please be aware we have a link-only policy”.  I wasn’t even sure what that means.  Presumably that means you can’t copy their summaries, you can only link to them – and that would be reasonable as the site (“Dustin’s” former site) uses the detailed daily summaries to attract advertising income. 
  
However, the site would not be able to tell someone they can’t claim “fair use” – if it really was “fair”.  Possibly it could be fought in court – expensive.  For example, other’s (myself included) will sometimes discuss individual characters in this or other soaps as they would in discussing any TV series or movie.  For example, a reviewer might write is own discussion of Will and Sonny in light of the gay marriage issue, or might discuss the interesting legal and ethical problems subsumed by the plot thread where Will writes about his own family and gets paid for it, or why EJ didn’t want a funeral when he was gone – because that really brings up some interesting issues that can apply to a lot of people.  But the words and analysis have to be “yours” (or “mine”).  (The “soaps” site is in a sense a “derivative work”, but that’s another matter.)
  
I checked around, and found some commercial sites do have “linking policies”.  Jack Daniels, for example.  But no company, in today’s legal environment, can stop some other party from linking to them.  (It can stop reproduction of its trademark dress designs, for instance.) Back about a dozen or more years ago, there were some battles over “deep links” which are legally the same thing as bibliographic footnotes in a term paper.  Some companies in the past worried they would lose advertising revenue to deep links, but in practice that is very much a red herring.
  
A site called “Seq legal” has a presentation on the issue, here. It offers a good explanation as to why links matter.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Open Access Button should prompt institutions to be more cooperative in sharing research papers


There is a new group online called  “Open Access Button” which offers a free subscription (link).  When you need a research paper the group emails the author or source to see if you can get the paper free without delay or red tape (as with JSTOR, which I have used and found clumsy).  It allows you to keep track publicly of which publishers and researchers will share their information, especially with other students, inventors, or researchers.  Imagine the value of this if there is some new idea for an effective drug or early intervention test for an infectious disease like Ebola or SARS (or HIV). 

  
This is the kind of facility Aaron Swartz (“The Internet’s Own Boy”) would have wanted. 

Note that the button can be tailored to the individual web browser. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Could government surveillance extend to train and theater seatings for possible "contact tracing" and "controlled movements" downstream during epidemics?


The possibility of “partial quarantine” in the early stages of pandemics, where there is perhaps some residual uncertainty about transmission that authorities don’t want to talk about, could give more impetus to concerns about privacy from snooping.  For example, I might not want government to know what seat I had occupied on a train (plane you can’t help), or in a movie theater if a health department or even CDC got very aggressive with secondary contact tracing.   Imagine not being allowed to return home from a trip based on a train or plane seat assignment. 

If something unusual happened in a venue, that would be one thing.  But I can’t afford to be grounded on just a speculative whim.
  
Theoretically, the government could try to get the information from email or text content – although we all know that it sometimes does it without a warrant, or can get one too easily.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Copyright prosecution in Colombia against Diego Gomez recalls Arom Swartz; EFF marks Open Access Week


A disturbing case has occurred overseas in the area of open access to scientific and other journals – the passion of Aaron Swartz (and more recently teen scientist Jack Andraka).  In Colombia, Diego Gomez faces 4-8 years in prison for posting material about zoology (amphibians) obtained from a library in Bogata online.  Colombian copyright law does not have a Fair Use provision like ours.  His own story of his endeavor is here. The Daily Dot has his story, as written by Rob Price, here

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a brief story by April Glaser about Open Access Week, leading to an online petition, mentions the story in her pitch, here



Friday, October 17, 2014

A troubling singularity in my own experience of liberty


A couple of the incidents involving “coercion” (as I mentioned in the previous posting) do lead to some troubling – and interesting territory.

One “incident” concerns the simple act being invited to dance in a disco – when I’m “watching” (someone who is attractive).  The individual, who may not be interesting to me, breaks in. No big deal, and sometimes I have danced.  (And a few times he may have been someone I would “want”.)  But onetime, to a particular woman, I said no, and she got upset. “Really?”   This was a walk on “the right to reject” someone.

Another incident concerns an “interview” one cold fall evening in 1974 in the East Village, to join a talk group sponsored by the Ninth Street Center.  The interviewer (who was the “psychologically feminine” partner in a particular relationship, using the terminology of Paul Rosenfels), suddenly lambasted me, with “don’t you see you incredibly boring you really are?”  Ironic to quote it, isn’t it.  What seemed to unnerve him and some other people was my tendency to bring “outer world” issues (of the time) or “current events” (history class) into social interactions and the talk groups at the Center.  At the time, the energy crisis (following the Arab Oil Embargo) was a big issue for me, still living in New Jersey – as it could affect my mobility – my ability to get to the Center or to gay social scenes at all – and my economic stability, my job (although it never did in fact).  Many of the people who came to the Center at the time had simple jobs (cleaning apartments), lived on little, and stayed in the neighborhood all the time.  They felt “bullied” by my hitting their “complacency” about bigger issues.  They took “stability” for granted.  Of course, “gay activists” know that in much of the world (especially then), you couldn’t take your ability to function for granted.

Of course, someone I really look up to (the “upward affiliation” idea from George Gilder) I would be much more careful with.  If I bring up the “on the outside” problem (as we had called it at NIH in 1962) I’d make sure it’s really pertinent to the other person.  But the people that I tended to “prattle” about this were people who maybe made some kind of impression on me, which would weaken quickly.  I wasn’t serious.  So the interviewer would ask, well, why don’t I “care” about “people” more?  Why don’t I cry about this sometimes?  He said sometimes people would be socially brutal “back” at me and I seemed oblivious.  I really didn’t care.

It’s pretty easy to see that stuff like this can play out in social media today.  In fact, I don’t make a big deal of “followers” or “friends” since the posts are public.  I don’t let the “unfollow” or “unfriend” event become an issue.  Some people I simply just look at their threads once a week or so.  I’m pretty sure a number of people, especially in college, do that with me.  That’s fine – there is no issue then. 

But there will be people who say, “I don’t need to get bad news from you”  -- about Ebola or ISIS or whatever – even though it’s pretty clear that some of these things could affect them, and affect us all, adversely, even existentially.  They want some kind of personal “sharing” of “own experiences”.  Well, I can do some of that. 

And I once got an angry email from someone in Australia about one of my posts, saying something like “You are not the judge of the cretins of the world.”

So, here I come back to the central point.  I recall one evening in December 1961, when my father, lying on the love seat in the den and putting a heat pad over his nervous stomach (a quick complication of my William and Mary expulsion), said, “The psychiatrist says, you don’t see people as people.”  

That’s right (and I don’t mean that as a Christian chant).  I see in someone what I see.  It’s a tautology.  The person matters (interpersonally, not in the sense of having individual human rights respected legally, but personally) if he appeals to me.  If he does not appeal to me, I don’t look for explanations or “bad luck”, which may be quite pertinent.  He may have started way behind me “in line”.  He may have a biological disability.  (So may I, but I’m am right on the “coin edge” as to whether that matters.)  He may have been injured by the carelessness or violent hostility of someone else.  But he still is “what he is”.  That is how I feel.  And that is how I feel about myself.  The word “victim” means nothing in my own psyche; if anything it seems shameful.

I have indeed noticed this more in my own thinking in retirement, since 9/11 and Mother’s long eldercare.   I’ve also noticed it in my substitute teaching, when unexpectedly and suddenly confronted with situations with disabled or disadvantaged students (“other people’s children”) that were much more personal than I had ever imagined possible.  (I could tell a story about “the swimming pool” here, but that’s for another time.)   I used to have a much simpler, libertarian idea of “personal responsibility” (as I outlined in my first book).

Of course, I can decline because of age (and the medical events that come with age), or I can “screw up” myself.  But I have come to realize I can become “less” because of someone else’s antagonism or negligence, too.  Once I am “less”, that’s an absolute thing.  I don’t extend myself to anyone else this way, so I can’t accept the idea of someone extending to me just because of “bad luck”.  This can become more disturbing than the normal losses of age or one’s own failures. I didn't become "socialized" to the point that marriage would be meaningful, because I wasn't competitive enough; so the alternatives were "diverge and watch", become subservient. or die.  So, yes, I am exposed if something "happens", and I am irrelevant outside of our own immediate way of life.  
    
And that is difficult.  I can see how it undermines the idea that people can take risks for one another when it can really cost them something.  That’s an important idea behind military service or any period of service.  (In fact, before my own draft, I used to say that I didn't want to come back if maimed in Vietnam, and other people, on campus, said the same thing;  we were willing to let the disadvantaged become what I see as real "sacrifices" through the deferment system.)  If it is “acceptable”, it can undermine the passions of marriages – of others who witness it.  That explains some of the antagonism I sometimes encounter, in the two incidents I mention here, as well as the troubling period at William and Mary and NIH in 1961 and 1962.

So this is another side of morality, one we have forgotten how to talk about in moral terms.  
  
Libertarians talk about “personal responsibility” and honoring voluntary promises and contracts, and sometimes defiantly announced (like the appealing teen character Bob in “The Zero Theorem”) “I’m nobody’s tool” (or imagine John Galt’s speech in “Atlas Shrugged”).  Yet sometimes we don’t get a choice on belonging.  Sometimes things change us whether we think we will accept it or not.  Courage and cowardice belong in moral debate, too.  Omissions can be as deadly as commissions.

People who live in authoritarian societies experience this view of "morality" all the time, because often their social, tribal, familial, religious or political structures face threats and leaders can exploit the idea that, if the culture is to survive. it can only be as strong as its least resilient link, so threats to "social capital" are viewed as criminal.      

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I do want to do an "autobiographical" video, and here is why


In the coming weeks, I expect to make some “autobiographical” videos.  These will present “my story” in a way that doesn’t require someone to have read my books (and to understand my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book you need to know something about the first two in the series).  The videos would constitute material that could be used to interest others in making one of the DADT scripts into a film (it’s not easy to imagine pimping Kickstarter for it, but possible).

Let me make a technical note.  I have been experimenting with Final Cut Express on a MacBook with the older 10.6.8 operating system – but that is the problem.  Even though the editing in Express is supposed to be the same as Pro, it’s becoming apparent that I need a much more modern environment with Pro to get this done.
  

So, why do I “keep on writing”?  Why do I “talk” instead of “act”.  Well, I research before I “talk”.  But, seriously, that’s the question I have to explore.  People do knock on my doors and want my attention at various life levels, as they have at different points in my life.  This issue, of my “responsiveness” and apparent “lack of assertiveness” was somewhat less of an issue when I was “working” in my main track career in mainframe IT for thirty-plus years, than it was earlier in my life or later, during the eldercare period with my mother.  I think it’s fair for me to ask of “you”, well, “What do you want from me?”  Frankly, there are a lot of contradictions, things that don’t add up.  It’s fair for “you” to ask, “what I do I want?” Public recognition for my content?  Well, yes.  I’d like to get my music performed professionally (which can only happen if it is technically presentable enough).  I’d like to the get the fiction novel done (finally), and the screenplay produced.  Yes, this gets me up in the morning, at 71.  And “ordinary” social connections don’t, although the hope connected to certain “fantasies” or dreams does.  And, yes, I find some succor in publishing analysis of current events and then later claiming “I told you so.” 

Yes, I am “different” and there is tension between my pursuit of my own goals, even in retirement, and the “real needs” of others, leading to existential questions like, to I really like or “love” my customers enough to “care”?  There are times in life when we don’t fully get to choose what we do, and sometime we “must” do the bidding of others, despite our best efforts of prevention, and despite narrower libertarian ideas of “personal responsibility” and “contract”.

A good way to kickoff the discussion is to invoke the idea of “service”, and even acceptance of some servitude, as I discussed in a posting here Sept. 30, commenting on a congregational prayer at the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Arlington VA (it’s also on the International Issues blog Sept. 28, the same Sunday that the prayer was used).  That ties into another discussion, about the relationship between “Asperger’s Syndrome” and “schizoid personality”, both which have applied to me.  There are behaviors (and omissions) common to both.  In general, “Asperger’s” refers to a problem in neurological development, and is viewed as part of autism (the mildest form).  “Schizoid” refers to a pattern of reflection, preference for many solitary activities, and a disdain for intimate relations with others, and aloofness to sharing emotion of others. It gets very negative press, as "malignant self-love", but it is a fry cry from the narcissistic personality, or even schizophrenia.  


It isn’t much good to dwell on “diagnostic criteria”. In my life, “Schizoid” represents an adaptation.  If someone (like me) isn’t able to compete socially according to gender norms in life, then “I” may try a lot of other means: solitary activities, upward affiliation, emotion connected to art or music, a fantasy life, and a certain style of self-broadcast.  Fortunately, my society became progressive enough that I was able to live a “productive” life as an “individual contributor” (as HR people call it).  That might not have been.  The alternative for me might have been “servitude”.  If that was not acceptable, it might have been death.  I must see this in moral terms, not just medical.  In a way, I’m lucky, and other people aren’t.  But important in my adaptation was intense emotion for some people I “thought a lot of”.  With such people I was usually very careful in how I managed relationships.   With others I could be careless.  Sometimes I would prattle about external issues to “second choice” people, which I saw as threats to me, but which are less relevant for those who are socially well adapted, even if not terribly accomplished individually.  Of course, that’s self-indulgent.  Part of my adaptation is that I don’t become jealous, and I don’t need to play the numbers games or “likeonomics” on social media.  I don’t have continuous electronic chat (like in “Men, Women & Children”) with anyone, because I don’t need to; it’s not my strategy. Overuse of social media chat just risks rejection and blocking (as in that movie).


So examination of all suggests that there is some common understanding of what should be expected of “people who are different” or “people like me”.  Inductive reasoning then intervenes, and one thinks there are some moral principles that apply to “divergents” in general.  That’s because it is easier for people to “do what they have to do” if they know that others in similar circumstances “have to” and will. An associated question is, when do societies properly worry that a “divergent” sill set an example that others will emulate?   I turn this question around with a Vox-style cardstack that I made in 2011, where I examine logically (in the style of a mathematical or plane geometry “proof”)  the idea that “liberal democracy” is sustainable but limits on individual choice need to be systematically examined, Wordpress link here

Sexual orientation used to play out as a “proxy” for this larger debate (and what is going on in Russia and other non-democratic countries with respect to homosexuality will illustrate this point).  This has a lot more about the meaning people give to procreation (of others around them as well as their own) than we want to admit, or than I even wanted to accept in the past.  People fighting battles over marriage equality today don’t remember how it was a half-century ago, when it was more about “privacy” and being “left alone”.  But it’s because sometimes we have to work together closely and share risks (as the old military draft with its skewed deferment system illustrated) that we aren’t always left alone.  Another aspect that played out when I was younger was that at least one roommate feared that my homosexuality could make other men around me impotent and unsuccessful with women.  In a more modern setting, encompassing the idea of gay marriage and couples, excess "upward affiliation" counters the expectation that people in a relationship can remain passionate during physical adversity (an absolute necessity when a population faces enemies or serious external adversity), or that less "attractive" persons find partners at all; so the presence of someone who exhibits this pattern is seen as a serious distraction to others.  You see how this style of “thinking” goes.


I plan to present some scenarios in videos where others have “pressured” me inappropriate, and, to play fair, how I have pressured them.   There are some areas where reflection leads me into circular and disturbing areas.   For example, authoritarian societies (like Russia) do seem to be “successful” in a way;  but I can’t fit into them and would have no purpose, so I would feel I should not exist if I found myself one.  Or, society might become much less accommodating to “someone like me” modern civilization broke down because of some calamity (nuclear war, or enemy EMP attack, for example); again, there would be no “purpose” for me (so, in a Christian sense, why would I even want to be “saved”?  No, I can’t see any point in “manipulating” people just to get them to buy things – so I don’t compete well in a social hierarchy;  There’s nothing for me hereafter either if I fail here.)   I think there is a good question in wondering how someone who is different should behave when he decides the society around him is “evil” and I’m afraid that, confronted with that, I might not want to survive.  I don’t see the point of salvation after being a “loser” – a reaction that does affect my openness to relations with others – yet I realize that it is easy to “lose” because of deliberate violent hostility or negligence of others – just as it is easy to lose because of one’s own misbehavior or failure.  The concern that it is possible to become a “victim” (or “casualty”) has become much more disturbing to me in recent years, as the apparent social tensions connected to inequality increase.  But of course, if people “give up” when things go wrong, that makes it easier for authoritarianism (Putin-style or radical Islam) to take over. 
  
My own father spewed double meaning when he preached “To obey is better than to sacrifice”.  Because the need to accept sacrifice can come true.  "Cowardice", the way we used to see it as something that crawls out of the woodwork during hardship or coercion, can be as big a "sin" as ordinary transgressions of commission.  When someone in my shoes is perceived as a "parasite" or as beholden to the unseen sacrifices of others, he can meet brutality and even force, and it can get very ugly, often from those who believe they are just following religious precepts.   "Fundamentalism" and political radicalism can seem attractive to some people exactly because it derives meaning from the idea that everybody follows the same rules and is exposed to the same risks and sacrifices.   The only counterweight is love and openness, sometimes to showing affection for others or feelings one would have rejected in the past.  The willingness for people (even like me) to do that may be the last defens to authoritarianism when things get tough.   

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can bloggers get insurance? Should they? Another look


A few times in the past, I’ve discussed the issue of liability insurance for bloggers.  Back in 2001, I carried a policy arranged by the National Writers Union for six months, and then was denied an extension because of the “controversial aspect” of my writing, and a rather brazen email from the underwriting company used that language as explaining “the declination”.
  
In 2008, the Media Bloggers Association mentioned another policy plan that seemed to be available.  Shortly thereafter the national financial crisis ensued and the whole topic got forgotten.
In the past, various financial professionals have recommended that people buy “umbrella” policies with their auto and homeowner’s policies in order to cover such risks. 
  
It is credible that someday there will be calls to make insurance mandatory, because the harm that has come to some families has been so devastating.  But such a suggestion would probably be accompanied by the idea that such coverage should come from homeowner’s or auto policies.
  
I think that’s a bad idea.  As far back as 2000, I looked at expanding my auto liability coverage above the standard $300,000.  At the time, umbrella policies were being offered but were newer.  I was told that such a policy could not be sold to someone who “is an entertainer.” 
  
Such terminology shows a surprising lack of grasp of what is going on.  As a self-published book author and now blogger, am I an “entertainer”?  I’m no Justin Bieber.  And I’m no drag queen performing regularly at a club.  And I’ve never hosted SNL.  I can imagine winding up in the movies, as a narrator or in a dramatic role of some kind.  Is Anderson Cooper, who hosts his own news analysis shows, an “entertainer”?  I guess so, since he’s been in “Live with Kelly”.   So what is an “entertainer”?
  
I’ve looked at “extra liability coverage” with auto insurance more recently.  Generally, that’s what you need to go above the $300,000 liability limit, and generally they cover incidental libel and slander, concepts which normally have nothing to do with one’s driving record or accidents.  Sounds like apples and oranges, still.  But now they typically don’t cover libel resulting in the course of “business”, only incidental personal use of the Internet.
  
That means, defamation that occurs in the middle of genuinely “social” use of social media (like trying to get dates) as in the film “Men, Women & Children”, would be covered.  But organized self-publication might not.
  
I suppose my activity would be “business” since the books are sold in commerce (as on Amazon) and the blogs accept ads.  The self-publication has become my “second career” (or “second life”) in retirement, to the fact that I couldn’t go out and peddle life insurance, Medicare Advantage, long term care, or tax preparation in retirement, as callers have tried to urge me to do, without creating a “conflict of interest”.  Indeed, it you do that, you are no longer yourself on social media, you are what you sell or peddle.  It sounds demeaning.
  
In any case, it would sound to me that the risk of libel or other litigation as a result of personal Internet use would be hard to underwrite and hard to estimate.  “Social” use, like self-publishing, comes with some risks, not the least of which could be (especially in a social context, and perhaps especially for females) attracting stalkers or enemies, which would also present a peril hard to quantify, especially during more recent times. It does seem that such policies could probably cover lawsuits by merchants on customers for bad reviews on sites like Angies's List or Yelp, since these are the result of personal and not self-promotional or business activity.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Social media is of more value in uncovering terror and crime than in facilitating it (Washington Post op-ed)


This might be a good occasion to point out an op-ed in the Washington Post Sunday by Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro on the intelligence value of social media, link here
       
Some detractors have pointed out that ISIS us using social media to recruit “impressionable” and frankly gullible young men into overseas fighting that doesn’t make sense to westerners.  In fact, the logic inside this collectivist thinking (that it is “selfish” not to go fight for a brother [Sunni] Muslim who is attacked, or that future generations have to be protected from western “filth”) seems remarkable in how it unwinds and falls apart when you look at it.  Usually, we’re glad when young men eschew alcohol.  But the ideology that allows slavery and forced marriages?  How in the world can all of this compute, add up, and make any sense?  That’s not to say that I don’t have problems in getting my own ideas to “add up”. 
    
The writers of the piece point out that the intelligence value of social media probably outweighs the “recruiting”.  And the men who fall for this ideology don’t seem to realize that others are watching or listening, and that many more people may be repulsed by this than are won over.    

CNN has a piece on the issue by Peter Bergen and David Sterman, link here

Friday, October 10, 2014

Case at Lincoln Memorial stirs more debate on photography issues; Jennifer Lawrence swings at voyeurs, too; more on "selling"


The question of photography in public, and the idea that there is no real right to “privacy” in a public place, came to a head in Washington Thursday when a judge dismissed charges against a Virginia man charged by Park Police of “attempted voyeurism” near the Lincoln Memorial.  WJLA has the news story here.
  
The case is “United States v. Christopher Cleveland”.  The defendant was accused of “upskirting”, taking pictures of women seated above him in potentially embarrassing ways.  While the judge said she was personally disturbed by the defendant’s supposed conduct, it did not break the letter of the law, because it photographed only what was already publicly visible without any attempt at technical enhancement. More court papers from Scribd show on the WJLA news story.  
    
This week (regarding the "involuntary porn" issue) , Jennifer Lawrence made statements to the effect that people who hacked nude photos from the Cloud, posted them, or even viewed them at home, as well as the people who ran the sites that hosted them, had committed “sex crimes”, but that view has been challenged, as in this story.  
  


In another matter, I got a small catalogue from Angie’s List in the mail.  Is hosting an audience rating site, and then selling products that the people rated, an ethical conflict of interest?  I would have thought so.  I don’t like to pimp things at all, but I understand people have to make a living, before retirement, and sometimes afterwards.   One could say to someone like me, “you shouldn’t publish something until you can sell it and make it pay for itself” because that shows that I care about my customers enough to give them something they want to actually pay for.  Or that I shouldn’t enter the debate until I have my own dependents, my own skin in the game.  You see how that kind of thinking goes.  

Monday, October 06, 2014

More on the "innovation depends on inequality" debate


I’d like to follow on a bit on my post Sept. 30, particularly on my “aloofness” (or "schizoid personality" or "hyperindividualism") issue, as well as the debate over the nexus between innovation and inequality.  
    
I have a general perspective that there is more that can be done for people with medical needs, to extend their lives, even within a family, than there was decades ago when I was growing up.  Sometimes the efficacy of treatment depends on the willingness of other people (in and outside of a family) to sacrifice to support it.  Despite all the moral teachings in Sunday school when I was growing up, there wasn’t much said about this earlier in my life.  When someone’s “time was up”, he or she accepted it and didn’t expect more, because less could be done.
  
Likewise, much more can be done for the disabled, in all areas of life, whether injured in war or by crime, or born with disability, or having childhood cancers – than was thinkable when I was growing up.  But this capability would depend on the emotional support of those around the person.   In a “democratic” society, this seems critical to valuing human life (even more than does the “debate” over abortion).  
  
The media also sells the idea of “paying it forward”, and with self-giving generosity that generally wasn’t promoted as much in decades past.  Consider programs like “CNN Heroes”.   This seems like a paradox, given that there is so much gratuitous self-promotion and aggressive behavior on the Internet at the same time.
    
Even so, a lot of gender conformity was coerced when I was growing up, particularly the idea that men could “protect” women and children (the biological future) of a family or tribe.   Compared to today, the pressure was more related to competition and performance (leading naturally to “personal accomplishment”, as in sports especially) than now, when it has become more hands-on.  The greatest effects on me were early in life, and then toward the end, and less so in the middle, when I performed as a single working adult.  As “gay equality” progressed, in marriage and also the military areas, as I had written, new pressures, some of them unwelcome, came upon me directly and indirectly because of eldercare.  This puts aside the usual arguments about “personal responsibility” as connected to having (or not having) children.  My life became U-shaped.
  
It’s useful to look at instances where one has felt coercion from others, directly or not, whether from family, the culture, the law, or even outright enemies, even overseas.   The “common good” sometimes really has a big impact on what we can do with our lives, at least those of us who can’t compete with John Galt.  Certain kinds of “threats” do indeed trigger a “chain of logic” that is quite troubling, and that transcends any immediate situation.  This “chain” may have been more noted when I was a patient at NIH (and perhaps earlier at William and Mary) than other later times, particularly when I was in the Army, until perhaps more recently, post 9/11. 
  
It’s critical in a “liberal” society that life partners (usually, marital) can remain not only faithful but even interested and passionate after hardship, especially when that occurs from enemy or criminal hostility, as well as plain bad luck.  It’s important that people be able to find partners in the first place.  That means it’s important that others can step up, sometimes even in personal ways, when confronted suddenly by the challenges of others (Biblical “neighbors”) in perhaps unexpected circumstances.  Call this the ‘radical hospitality” issue, perhaps, but also delves into the emotions.
    
 When I displayed an unwavering interest in “upward affiliation” (George Gilder’s term), and the surrounding community lets this remain OK, there is an implied message that those who have stumbled (and become unappealing as a result) are disposable.   That is what seems so intolerable – we fought WWII over this, and then quickly forgot what our “victory” could mean in personal terms.   Consider, then the meaning of violence, when it is conducted as a kind of “warfare”.  It plays out differently in religious (radical Islamist) and far-Left-wing scenarios (Maoist-Communist) but to me any threat becomes very personal and an existential challenge – particularly regarding my own “karma” (inheritance, family, “did I get a break”, the way I met the draft, etc).    I cannot contemplate the idea of being remembered as a “victim” of anything, given my own life; a “casualty”, perhaps becomes an appropriate word.  I don’t offer “emotion” in the context of complementarity or jump into the “virtuous circle” that makes a permanent marriage possible, so I cannot accept it.  

There is a disturbing reflection of fundamentalism in my own thinking, where I don't see interaction with someone as "worthy" unless the person displays what I perceive as "virtue" (which can be fragile and subject to chance).  And it tends to place me in the position of expected readiness to become somone else's "backup", until I have more standing myself (in direct responsibility for dependent others).  It tends to turn normal libertarian ideas of personal responsibility on their own edges. I am also on a "coin edge" in another sense: it seems as though I am challenged, not so much to turn the other cheek, but to "pay backward" to others a break that I got as someone whose abilities lived in a twilight zone. Even here, there is another disturbing notion, "well-ordering", simply a consequence of mathematics: given any two individuals, I see one as "in front of" the other, as necessary from logic. This "rigid" style of thinking, a concern of therapists in the past, seems necessary for everything to "work" and for even personal mental or psychic pleasure to become possible. The "natural family" has been proposed by some social conservatives as a way to give everyone his own "value" to others in close proximity, but, again, that implies some authoritarianism. 


I do have a pet term for the "psychological defense" that someone "on the continental divide" like me uses, "fighting with your fingernails."  It's understandable and seems to gain recognition for "being different".  But it is left as OK, then the social context for some other people, probably less fortunate, becomes even more compromised and they have less incentive to fit into society than did the "divergent" like me.  
                 
As for the Afterlife – I’ve talked about it.  Physics tells me that it must exist – once established, an element of consciousness and freewill can’t be destroyed (thermodymamcs).  But the conventional idea of Heaven (and Hell and Purgatory) doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I won’t be in a position to benefit from it, regardless, because, as an only child, I didn’t extend the family.   Someone who dies as a child (Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder”) could not experience “eternal life” appropriately without another opportunity to become an adult.   So reincarnation has to make sense, even if most of us are on our first journey.  Teenagers coming of age today may one day learn that other planets are populated with people whose first chance was here.   The Law of Karma really does work – but at a Galaxy or Universe level.   Maybe there is such a thing as “a family of souls.”  

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Family magazines caution parents as well as teens about blogging, online behavior, even "spending too much time online"


At church today, I noticed a copy of Washington Parent, and a cover story on p. 52 by Carolyn Jabs, “Think Twice About Pressing ‘Post’; Blogging About Your Kids”, link here.

Whoa, I thought.  Some of the most successful and profitable blogs of all time have been the “mommy blogs”, especially “dooce” by Heather Armstrong. 
  
The tone of the article, though, suggests that gratuitous talk about your family or even personal circumstances in front of a global audience will only get you into trouble – attract predators, thieves, or real enemies.   I could become really flippant here and say that blogging about being an infidel (not the same as admitting infidelity) amounts to potential self-targeting. 
   
The alternative, of course, was to compete in the “real world” (and cater to the “real needs of other people”), which has become increasingly difficult – and meaningless – because the Web makes people “feel” self-sufficient, like they don’t need others except on their own terms.  “Selling”, even in my own father’s day, was not only reputable, it was joyous.  No more.  Now, it sounds like pimping and hucksterism, an admission of insufficient personal creativity.  So it gets desperately hard for a lot of people to make a living the way they used to – by manipulating others in the real world to do their bidding.
    
When I see this magazine, I immediately think of CNN host Don Lemon, who always announces that he is not a parent, and then gives a lot of fatherly advice to guests.

Certainly, teachers shouldn't blog about their students, usually. 


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Departing US Attorney General warns of danger to people if tech companies go to far in blocking cops from encrypted cloud data; could government search "private data" this way?


Attorney General Eric Holder (who is leaving office) said that tech companies need to leave cloud data open to police, at least when with proper warrants, in response to stories that Apple and other companies can design encryption that won’t even be broken under warrants.

The online “Switch Blog” story in the Washington Post by Craig Timberg is “Holder urges tech companies to leave device backdoors open to police”, link here.  In print today, p. A14, the title was more alarmist, “Holder says encryption may aid kidnappers, abusers.”  The story appears to follow an earlier one in the Post Sept. 18. 

Much of the concern would be about child pornography and sex trafficking, but it could compass criminal or terrorist kidnapping of ordinary citizens.


It is probably possible for the government to search (without warrants) cloud backups more than 180 days old for “digital hash” matches to known images of child pornography (from NCMEC), just as Google has started doing with gMail attachments.  I haven’t heard that this has actually happened.  But illegal content found in a Cloud account, however private, would still legally imply a "possession" offense (as with c.p.).  
   
Very disturbing could be the idea of subpoena of cloud data to look for copyright infringement in civil cases, where the copies are still private and have never been “published” online but only kept for private use.  Normally lawsuits for illegal downloads in the past happened by spying on direct P2P networks, not clouds.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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


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

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

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