Thursday, April 17, 2014

Do rights come from democracy? Or does liberty pre-exist governance? Are individualism and equality in confllict?

Back in the 1990s, a lot of my attention, particularly when I wrote about gays in the military and gay rights, concerned the relationship between “fundamental rights” and the Constitution.
Today, George Will has a major column on p. A15 of the Washington Post, “Democracy v. Liberty, or online “Progressives are wrong about the essence of the constitution, link here.  He starts about by taking issue with Stephen Breyer in his 2006 statement that the Constitution is basically about “democracy”.
Will points out a basic dichotomy between conservatives (of the libertarian kind) and progressives.   He says that progressives view democracy as a source of liberty, whereas libertarians, at least, believe that liberty pre-exists the state and therefore democracy.

Progressives believe that democracy protects the individual from “the strong”.  Libertarians believe that liberty should protect the individual from the majority, which is strong in numbers, and perhaps solidarity.
How to those who are “different” fit into this?  Liberals want to put “the divergent” into immutable groups and guarantee their rights as derivative of some sort of relative organizational strength, which again favors those in power.  Conservatives, at least social ones, see the “divergent” as mooches who can undermine the moral discipline of others and the ability of everyone to take turns sharing sacrifices.  It’s on the last point that the far left and far right come together.  Remember the ideology of the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960’s? Libertarians want individual rights to be absolute (which is usually a good thing for gay people for example) but sometimes don’t see the sacrifice and discipline that makes today’s liberty possible.  Some of that “sacrifice” can be emotional – the willingness to enter into and stay in relations that take into account the needs of others and not just one’s own expressive aims. I think the way free speech arguments work gets interesting – it seems to be an absolute right, but the distribution of speech sometimes puts others (especially parents) who have taken on more responsibility in some peril.

As I’ve written in my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book, I think that there is another way to put this dichotomy:  individualism (that is, more or less absolute liberty, the Barry Goldwater kind that can “shoot straight”) begets innovation, but individualism also depends on inequality, even as hyperindividualism shuns socially necessary interdependence.  It is this fundamental inequality that breeds instability, that makes interdependence necessary and that can become so problematical for the “divergents”.

In the book, I also develop the idea that the way the “divergent” individual balances his or her own expressive desires with the practical needs of others in the immediate family and community becomes a moral issue.  Not everything is a matter of choice and responsibility for choice, because we have all benefited from sacrifices of others that we don’t see. I can go through many incidents in my life, all the way back to boyhood but especially in the college-military years and then more recently, with eldercare, where others could make demands on me that I really could not make free choices about – because I “belong” to a community.  It’s adding up what others really want that becomes difficult, because there are so many contradictions among what “they” want.  (Oh, there is no “they”.)  The extreme case is provided by considering what use I would be in a society after a real catastrophe (like some I have discussed here in book and movie reviews).  Without the ability to belong, I would become like the people I pass by and ignore with disdain. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

DMCA Safe Harbor concept tested in lawsuit against CafePress

There is another important case that tests the way DMCA Safe Harbor works and that might recall the lack of its use in the Righthaven troll matter a couple years ago.  This case is Gardner v. CafePress, as explained by Electronic Frontier Foundation in an article by Parker Higgins and Corynne McSherry.  The article in turn links to an amicus brief. 
CafePress lets users set up online stores to sell goods.  Apparently a user included some wildlife photography by Steven Gardner, who sued and claims that CafePress does not enjoy DMCA SafeHarbor protection for two reasons.  The plaintiff claims that the defendant is not a true service provider because it apparently does some of its own publishing or business on the site. (A blogger who just does his own postings is not a service provider, but if her site allows others to post without prior review, I would think that could qualify as a service provider; that point came up in some of the cases involving Righthaven.)  It also claims that its stripping of metadata from photographs, common done in social media (including Facebook) presumably to protect the privacy of posters, amounts to non-compliance with the expectation of using all readily available standard technical means in allowing infringing material to be indemnified.  Apparently if the metadata were left on, it would be easier for a potential plaintiff to find it.


EFF argues that these points of law should have been resolved by the judge in a summary judgment and that the case should not go to trial.    
Picture: an example of metadata, source is my own train set  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Student recording a bullying incident at school on iPad faced wiretapping charges!

A student at a Pennsylvania high school, South Fayatte in McDonald, recorded a bullying incident in his special education math class.  He was then prosecuted for felony wiretapping, before the charge was reduced to disorderly conduct.  The school apparently showed no interest in disciplining the students doing the bullying.  The American Conservative has a link for the story here.  The recording had been made on a school-issued iPad. 
When I worked as a substitute teacher, I found it very difficult to enforce the rules of others in situations where the rules seemed unnecessary or simply a way to maintain a consistent chain of authority.  It was difficult for me to step in to “somebody else’s” chain of command and be believed.

The article presented a country-western item by Pete Seeger, “What did you learn in school today?


McDonald is SW of Pittsburgh, maybe thirty miles from the school where the knifing incident occurred.  Schools feel they are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to security, having to strictly enforce rules that backfire.  
Picture: Washington, PA, Nov. 2012 (my trip)

Monday, April 14, 2014

EFF challenges Ninth Circuit takedown, gag order on "Innocence of Muslims" copyright case as precedent-setting giving in to bullying

Electronic Frontier Foundation has more news about the “Innocence of Muslims” case  Apparently the normally liberal to temperate Ninth Circuit ordered that the YouTube video with the supposed 5-second "copyright clip” be kept off the web even though the Circuit agreed that the copyright claim sounded weak and dubious, and it even issued a gag order, preventing Google from talking about the case for a full week.  The EFF article on its amicus brief (linked) is here.   It called this a “dangerous” even if temporary ruling.  

The gag order obviously was motivated by overseas security concerns for the subject.  But giving in to it would allow extremists to bully speech off the Internet merely by making physical threats.

It appears to me that the film is back on YouTube now. 
In the video above, Jeff Waldorf speaks about the case for TYT Nation.
Picture: Friday, near Sugarload Mountain, notice a touch of David Lynch in the picture? 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Press release from book publishing service helps pin down my own philosophy

I did get a press release form from XLibris to approve regarding my latest book, “Do Ask, Do Tell: Speech Is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege” (“DADT III”), which will stress that the book is the third of a series (see Book Reviews Blog, Feb. 27). 

It says that, within the United States Armed Forces treatment of homosexuals through the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, from 1993 until 2011), I saw a mirror of the progress of my own life.  True, that’s a good metaphor.  Part of that reflection backtracks to the Vietnam era military draft and deferment system.
I do think that the release gets to the core of my argument.  Sometimes a different person can state something succinctly that “you” have been spiraling around, as if afraid of an event horizon.  Individualism, even carried to excess, produces innovation and more culture, and raises the standard of living for everyone over time.  But individualism is predicated on a kind of differential and inevitable inequality (I am reminded of a friend's favorite phrase, "inevitable epigrams"). As an irony, that inequality produces instability in society, which can become uncontrollable, leading to expropriation and revolution, if those who are more fortunate don’t use their capabilities wisely, even in interpersonal interactions.
The other part is about family responsibility.  Yes, it is sometimes imposed on people, regardless of their own choices and “personal responsibility”, as with eldercare, or with childless or single adults suddenly raising siblings’ children after family tragedies.  Family is both a creator of individualism and a challenge to it.  There is always a moral tension between “taking care of your own” and moving out into the world beyond family.
Another major point, not quite included in the press release, but a corollary, would be the point that unrestrained “self-broadcast” and asymmetric reach can become dangerous if not balanced by capacity to take responsibility for others. Luck does have a bearing on our concept of responsibility. 
I have a link with a “sneak preview” of the more exact quote, here

A part of me can relate to what may be behind some of these rampages by male teens and young adults (latest).  Young men, especially, find that society is making pressures on them, to serve cohesion-related needs other than their own, in situations that for some reason make them feel humiliated (even bullied) in front of other peers.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Embeds and copyright: revisiting some litigation in 2011-2012

Earlier today, I posted a review of a PBS Nova show (on the TV blog) and an embed of the show from YouTube that appeared to have been posted by PBS. Pubic Television sometimes posts videos of its programs for free viewing, although it generally tries to sell DVD’s of them (or rent them to subscribers as through Netflix) in order to earn some revenue.  When I checked this evening, I found that the embed didn’t work and that YouTube had already removed the user for “commercial deception” so apparently the particular account had been set up to impersonate PBS. 
I have noticed that some embeds stop working after some time.  Sometimes a user has been removed for multiple complaints of copyright infringement.  Sometimes the video has been taken private (which may mean that the owner wants to sell it on Amazon or Netflix or iTunes soon) or sometimes it says that the video does not exist.  I haven’t seen a notice that a user was removed for spam or “commercial deception” before.
Generally, I don’t embed a video that looks like it is likely to be infringing.  But if the origin is depicted as the content owner and it is fraudulent, there is no way for a blogger to know.  Of course, if YouTube (or similar provider like Vimeo) takes the original video down, then the embed cannot play it, and any theoretical secondary infringement could no longer happen.  I’ve never heard of a DMCA takedown for an embed. 

In April 2012, Timothy B Lee (now with Vox Media) has posted a story about litigation brought by the MPAA to remove the legal distinction between hosting infringing content and embedding it, on Ars Technica,  ("MPAA: You can infringe just by embedding a video") detailed explanation here. The original opinion had supported this idea, in the case Flava Wors v. myVidster, Salsaindy, Voxel et al., in Illinois, decision in July 2011, link here

Alyssa Rosenberg has an article in ThinkProgress in April 2012, “The lawsuit that could change video embedding as we know it:, link here.

Apparently the Seventh Circuit ruled rather quickly, with a decision on Aug. 2, 2012, reproduced in Techdirt (here), that embedding could not contribute to copyright or even “performance” infringement, although the ruling seems to leave open other somewhat vague theories under which a bad-faith or deliberate embedder might be pursued.  “Viewing” copyrighted materials illegally might be theft and prosecutable in some kinds of situations, but doing so does not constitute copyright infringement itself. I have not heard of any more developments on this issue since the summer of 2012.  Remember there have been rare cases of litigation for other torts associated with hyperlinks, including libel.  

If this latest ruling from the 7th Circuit hadn't come forth, I wonder if Google would be embedding YouTube videos that members make comments on in the members' Google+ feeds.  

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Some thoughts about a meeting concerning the future of the church of my own youth (First Baptist of the City of Washington DC)

On Sunday, April 6, 2014, I stayed well past the usual brunch and attended a symposium held by a consultant for the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, to discuss the long decline of the church in which I had grown up.  

Mainline churches tended to do well until the late 1960s, when values began to change as a result of social changes, partly having to do with resentment of the Vietnam War as well as with the Civil Rights Movement (and soon to follow, Stonewall and gay rights).  Declines have set in with many mainstream churches, and some congregations have died, with the sale of their buildings to other interests. 
The Church today has the budget of a “Multi-celled” or even “Professional church”, partly because of real estate income associated with the apartment building going up on its former parking lot. It has one of the largest and newest concert organs in the nation.  It was fitting that the organ postlude (which the congregation now stays for) had been “A Solemn Melody” by Davies.

The Church has a declining Sunday attendance, with a decline persisting for some years, and now the attendance matches that of a “clergy centered church”. In fairness, some of the decline in the most recent years could have been related to loss of use of the sanctuary for a number of months for construction to put in the new organ.  The church had to meet in the Fellowship Hall for much of 2012 and early 2013. 
Now at this point, I have to say that I can compare this meeting with other sessions I heard over the years, at Metropolitan Community Church (in Dallas, then Washington, and Minneapolis) and even the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas (now part of UCC), which is very much at least a “professional church” in this jargon.  I’ve heard similar analysis before.  And I’ve heard before that the Vietnam era broke the pattern of conventional church growth.
I can recall (while “home” from Dallas, where I then lived) a Christmas dinner in 1983 at the home of church friends of my parents in McLean, VA, where the friend asked, “what was going to happen to the church?” 
The presentation listed all the previous pastors back to Edward Hughes Pruden, in 1936 (pastor until about 1969 as I recall).  Pruden was the pastor when the present sanctuary building opened on Christmas Day, 1955, with a lot of blue light coming through windows yet to be filled with stained glass. I was baptized with my mother in late January, 1956, at the age of 12, when in seventh grade.  I recall attending Sunday School taught by president Jimmy Carter in the balcony in 1977 (I think it was the “divorce chapter”).   I networked with Dr. Goodwin (pastor from 1981 to about 1994) on the debate over gays in the military that erupted as Bill Clinton became president in 1993.  Dr. Haggray arranged the memorial service for my mother in early 2011.    
There has been a pattern since Pruden left for pastors to seem more liberal on some issues than some in the congregation.  Since the church is affiliated with both American and Southern Baptist conventions, there has always been a widespread diversity of views on most social issues, even if the overall mood is somewhat liberal, at least among younger and now middle aged members.  Various management issues have developed with a few of the pastors, including the one who left recently (Haggray).  I have no particular knowledge of the details of the various problems and no real position on them, other than the idea that a wide divergence of views on things among the congregation can lead to tension.  I can recall a letter from a Dr. Jones (from GWU) in the late 1960s on the very rigorous educational requirements that any new pastor should have.
I also recall the youth programs of the 1950s, held on Sunday nights and sometimes Saturday mornings, including choir, and the various sessions in the Youth Lounge, and then various church retreats to Shrine Mont (near the West Virginia border).    There were one or two particularly charismatic young individuals in the groups then (one whom I recall from Florida), an experience I have seen occur more recently in other churches.  In more recent years, FBC has supported trips to Nacascolo (a mission in Nicaragua), a relief trip after Hurricane Katrina (which turned out to be difficult, according to reports), and a few years ago did support a young peoples’ Thirty Hour Fast. 
FBC even produced a DVD of an “independent film” (100 minutes, “The First 200 Years: A Video Overview of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC”) of its history, in 2004. 
I don’t usually speak at FBC meetings these days, as I am not officially a member, but I did this time.  I offered two comments.

One is that Dr. Pruden, raised and educated in Richmond, was ahead of his time on social issues, especially race, even in the early 1950s.  His 1951 book “Interpreters Needed: The Eternal Gospel and our Contemporary Society” lays out some of his positions, and delves into how a Christian nation, Germany, could have allowed the Nazi takeover and Holocaust to happen.  Likewise, almost all the other pastors have been progressive, more so than some of the congregation.

The other is that, in many other churches I have visited, many in other cities (most of all, Dallas) I tend to see a lot more emotion and passion among membership than I usually see at FBC.  You could say that “radical hospitality” comes from this passion.  This sometimes extends to summer mission trips to third world (at least Central American) countries, with very close-up and personal interaction with local people, probably above my own social capacities, at least.  I had noticed that in a “short film” about Trinity Presbyterian’s (Arlington) mission to Belize in 2012.
The facilitator closed by suggesting that the congregation would have to think carefully about the qualities it wanted in a pastor.  

Monday, April 07, 2014

Online reputation really matters for sales people

I found, through an email this Monday morning, a post from a marketing consultant, Sam Richter, with the captivating title, “Is Facebook destroying your business opportunities?”, link here. He refers to his work as the "Know More Blog", which reminds me of Farmers Insurance, "The more you know, the better you're prepared for what's ahead".  
It’s pretty obvious that the concern isn’t related just to Facebook.  In earlier days, it was Myspace (as on Dr. Phil’s “Internet Mistakes” (TV blog, Jan. 15, 2008) or just plain personal sites (like with the fictitious screenplay I had posted on my own and that caused a ruckus when I was substitute teaching – see July 27, 2007 on this blog).  Richter focuses on the belief that privacy settings on Facebook really keep things private, which we know they don’t (people repeat things, just like they did in the good old days before the Internet).   YouTube videos obviously fit into the discussion.

Richter’s concerns are specific for people in sales, who have to be concerned about driving away business opportunities (all the more so when they are business owners instead of employees).  One woman lost an executive job opportunity with a small company because of a post about her husband’s medical problems, apparently to a friends-only profile.  But the new employers seems to have passed her over because of its fear of medical claims (wouldn’t Obamacare take care of that?)  Another person lost an issue over a partisan political issue (yes, Republicans and Democrats).  If you work or sell on K Street, that could matter. To a techie and individual contributor like me, such behavior by employers sounds despicable.

You have to know your audience, and see who has a stake in you.  I see young actors and singers making energetic and perhaps satirical videos or whole web series that are double-edged, and these works make a wonderful impression with the right audience.  But, in show business, young artists have to wonder what context agents will perceive when they find their videos online.  It seems like context is everything.  You have to pay attention to whether your visitors will find other materials that place your edgy context in the right "true" light.

A number of years ago, pundits were talking about “employee blogging policies”, and concerns that unsupervised public broadcast of personal opinions, at least from managerial or underwriting employees, could cause disruptions in the workplace.  Social media, with the concept of whitelisting and audience-targeting, pretty much covered up the issue.  I’ve explained elsewhere how this can become a “conflict of interest” problem, link

Social media have made sure that it is no longer possible to lead a double life, with two quasi-public personas.  The days of "don't ask, don't tell" and the mentality that justified it are clearly over. 
Even in personal interactions we have to think about context.  About a year ago a young bartender said something when serving me that might have been offensive out of context.  I knew the person and what he really meant, so I wasn’t disturbed.  But some people might have been.  

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Media outlets, and even bloggers, may egg on unstable people into life-ending gun vengeance for celerbity

Army Spc Ivan Lopez had “ranted” on Facebook about the way the media glorifies “villains” who seek public revenge, an irony given that Lopez did the same thing himself at Fort Hood. 
CNN has a story that gives details about the Facebook post here.   He refers to Adam Lanza as having sough “publicity and their (his) minute of fame as a villain”, and then refers to shooters as “intelligent cowards”.
But the Washington Times, in an op-ed by Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, vets the same sentiments, that the media is encouraging narcissistic people to seek fame as the vent their angry on those who “victimized” them, or others in related classes of people, “Fort Hood and the celebrity of suicide: America’s fascination with mass killings eggs on the next shooter”, link here.

Shaprio writes, “We have to actually start exercising our own discretion by what we watch on television, and what we say on social media and how we interact with others without being force to do it.”

I wonder if in some of these cases the young men felt they had been humiliated repeatedly for not being able to keep up in doing certain kinds of things expected by others.  

One of my first “tricks” ever, on New Years’ Night back in 1976, said that his biggest concern in the world was “the abuse of the media”.  That was in the days long before self-broadcast and blogging. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Craigslist may facilitate theft rings, but it also helps police run stings to foil criminals

Thieves are trying to sell stolen items on Craigslist, and police are setting up stings on Craigslist to catch them.

The latest example happened recently in Laurel, Maryland (half way between Washington and Baltimore).  A man found all the wheels and rims removed and was able to identify them on Craigslist (it’s not completely clear how he knew they were his).  He called police, who set up a sting to buy the items and arrested the thief.

A typical Craigslist page for auto parts is here.  I see the map link, but the pic links didn’t seem to work when I looked. 

The problem seems to be particularly true for wheels on certain model cars.   I can remember, when living in Dallas, that “T Tops” were popular with thieves in the 1980s.  But some people will see this kind of crime as inevitable in a world with this much "inequality", although the insularity is certainly less.   

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Is "service" a lifestyle, a calling, an "identity", or a secular moral obligation? (Yes, it even matters for the Web); a Fairfax VA pastor weighs in

Monday, as March went out like a lamb, I was returning back from a day trip in rural Virginia along US 50, just north of the Virginia Beltway, and noticed a church sign saying “wanted: Imperfect people; Perfect people need not apply”.  Driving alone and in motion, I could not snap a picture. What's above is from earlier in the day. 
When I got home, I checked the website for the Fairfax Circle Baptist Church and found a most interesting and provocative sermon by Lead Pastor David Magnet as an audio file, running about 25 minutes, here.  

The title was “Essentials: Serving – from Obligation to Lifestyle”.

He did not present the topic of altruistic service as a moral issue.  Instead, he said that it should become a lifestyle, “something that flows out of you”, something that becomes “who you are”.  Former president Jimmy Carter had talked about this idea at the Washington National Cathedral back around 1995, but did not emphasize the "identity" aspect as much, from what I recall.  
Of course, the Fairfax pastor is relating the spiritual world of the New Testament, where “the greatest will be the least”.  He said that one will gladly “serve others’ agendas”.  So much for the idea that “unbalanced personalities” (in the Rosenfels polarity system) insist on being true to their own self-defined purposes.

The pastor also indicated that service is done without expectation of anything in return, if it is part of “who you are”.  I certainly agree that most service should be done without financial compensation.  But what about visibility.  Most people expect to see good deeds be noticed – and the pastor questions this expectation.  One problem that I find with organizations that recruit volunteers – even the very best and most reputable ones – is that they still become bureaucratic.  And they expect their volunteers to be “with it” and loyal as to organizational, rather than personal, aims.  They send emails like “can we count on you this time?”

He also described service as something that comes out of “obedience”, which it may be “inconvenient” for the volunteer.  Now I get the idea of obedience coming from faith.  But it’s awfully easy for a religious or political leader to abuse the concept.  There’s even the idea of upward affiliation or hero worship, now misplaced.  If I saw a young man asking me to give up everything and follow him now, even after seeing him demonstrated “Clark Kent” powers (as in the “Smallville” series) I would be appropriately cautious about my inclinations and perceptions. 

But in a “real world”, just looking at ethics from a mainstream, “secular” viewpoint, it seems that the way individuals balance following their own goals with meeting the “real needs of others” in a short term sense especially, is a moral issue, because in the long run it affects the future and sustainability.  It’s easy to see how the climate change debate figures in.  This is particularly troubling for people, especially males, who may be less socially competitive in meeting the normal needs of their communities, and can easily go off on their own.  When someone becomes prominent and visible without “paying his dues”, others who are intrinsically disadvantaged (especially because of inherited economic inequality) may get the idea that the “rules” of society (the law) are meaningless. The visibility issue plays out particularly with the Internet (and social media), where the “freedom” to self-broadcast by those without families can complicate things for those who have taken on raising children or who have more responsibility for others.  Society can become less stable, and actual crime and bullying can be difficult to contain. With all the progress in gay rights (especially in military and now marriage issues) in the West, we also find that this topic is particularly distracting to people with fewer economic opportunities (especially in less democratic or developed countries) for whom the “meaning” of having and raising  children and of building family units from biological lineage is all they have. 

Therefore, it’s useful to view “service” in secular moral terms, even if we don’t intend to solve all our problems just with political processes and policies, which can invite abuse by leadership. A “natural market” will eventually see some misuse of freedom as evidence of “bad faith” and may clamp down on some of these freedoms. 

One issue that the pastor did not specify is risk.  In fact, the sharing of exposure to hardship can become an important social issue, and has fed ideological debates in the past (such as with the way the Chinese in particular implemented communism with the "Cultural Revolution" in the 1960s).  I personally weigh risk very carefully and deliberately.  If I help someone, I may sometimes have some responsibility to intercede to protect the person.  The buck could stop with me and I could take the hit.  And, no, it's not completely OK just to assume that the social "reward" in Heaven would take care of that risk, although that's another discussion.  One needs to be more socially connected to "enjoy" that "reward" than I am or ever have been.    

What seems clear is that the impulse for “service” isn’t really just about “choice” and personal responsibility for what follows choice, or about what libertarians call “freedom to contract”.  It isn’t something that waits for the decision to marry and have children.  (Few of today’s young adults grasp how the Vietnam-era military draft and then student deferments played out as a moral issue in the 1960s; I lived that issue.)  It seems that things are the other way around. Service, carried out in good faith, tends to lead to long term and stable relationships and marriages.   

Monday, March 31, 2014

NBC Today discussion suggests most photography of people in public could become illegal; should people share fasts in order to raise money?

Today, a couple assorted topics will be distributed.
On the NBC Today show, there was a panel discussion of people taking pictures of minors in innocuous situations and posting them on the Internet.  The example that was given was your kid’s birthday party.  What’s wrong with group pictures, and then posting them on Facebook?  Well, one male panelist said, they could be parsed and used by criminals and place in the context of pornography.  This could happen with any young person’s photo (more likely with females).  Also, this denies minors the chance to build their own online reputation rather than having adults build it for them.
The tone of the discussion seems to be that the legal climate for taking pictures of persons in public, or at least posting them at all, is likely to change, even though right now it is generally legal.

A second issue concerns a recent charitable contribution.  It was to World Vision.  I got a call on a Saturday, early afternoon, minutes before I had to go out the door to get to something I had paid for a ticket to in time, from a youth group for a church I attend to support their 30-hour Fast.  I’ve written about this before (drama blog, Feb. 19, 2012).  I was on the spot.  I had to say that I haven’t supported this before, and let the call go.  I wondered if, given the very personal nature of the experience, direct participation by a non-parent was even appropriate.  I checked the website, and it was somewhat manipulative.  It appeared as though the teens are supposed to raise money for hungry children overseas while experiencing hunger themselves.  That seems manipulative.  Yet I know that this particular group sometimes makes short films during the fast. 
I went ahead and quietly added the group for a $30 contribution to my automated mechanism at Wells Fargo, and tried to add a note to give credit to the group.  The contribution, oddly, was returned by automated returns.  But then I got a thank you letter from World Vision (near Seattle) in the mail anyway.

More mateiral about volunteerism, mine anyway, is coming. 

Update:  Later March 31

I did find an article about World Vision's supposed Evangelical connections and "pragmatism" in changing positions on social issues, in an article by Leigh Daynes in the The New Internationalist, here. The "thank you" literature I got Saturday made no mention of religious beliefs or of positions on gay or other social issues other than poverty overseas.  However, could this factor have anything to do with the bank's record of a returned payment, in contradiction to the thank you note?

My regular donation goes to "Save the Children".  Even with that well known group, I have had to ask them not to call me repeatedly.  Am I indifferent?  That's for another day.  

Update: April 3

Gov. Jerry Brown of CA signed into state law a bill to make it a misdemeanor to photograph a child in an intrusive manner just because the parent is a celebrity or public official.  The law could test whether the idea of "right of publicity" can be applied in a criminal code.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Proposed Federal revenge porn law would circumvent Section 230, possibly leading to frivolous takedowns

US News has an update on “revenge porn” legislation, in an article by Steven Nelson, about legislation in Congress proposed and about to be introduced by Jackie Speier (D-CA) criminalizing the posting of revenge porn.  It’s not clear yet how narrow the legislation would be, but it probably won’t involve “ordinary” images of activities in bars and discos.   The link is here
By making posting of this material a federal law violation, Congress removes Section 230 protection from service providers because federal law violations are not encompassed.  State laws are, however, which is one reason why states attorneys general want to exempt their own laws from this umbrella.  So state laws against revenge porn cannot be as effective.
Critics fear that ISP’s would have to take down material based on frivolous complaints.   

In another matter that involves the ethics of lobbying and familial partisanship, GOP donor Sheldon Anderson is campaigning to restore the complete federal ban on online gambling, presumably because of some entrenched interests in the casino industry (not consistent).  Online gaming is legal in New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada.  The link to the story by Nicholas Confessore and Eric Lipton is here

I gave up my old “” domain name in 2005 and it was then used by an online gaming site, leading to some misleading leftover links from my own “” site in use now.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why we "factionless" watch our backs, and need to become more responsive

Let me share what is going on right now.  Recently, I published the third in the series of my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books (see Book Review blog, Feb. 27, 2014).  I am going through a number of my fiction manuscripts, starting with “The Proles” (1969), then several tries in the 1980s (the most important one is called “Tribunal and Rapture”, 1988) and 1990s, leading to a manuscript “Angel’s Brother” which I would like to publish.  I have several screenplay and nonfiction ideas for film based on the books, at least one or two of which I would like to “agent”.  And I have a couple of piano composition projects (one in particular) that I would like to produce and get out into circulation.  And I am 70 years old.

All of this means, of course, doing my homework. I work alone, and like the freedom.  I don’t need income from the material right away.  But I do need timely customer service from vendors, and the absence of disruption.  When you’re on your own, small failures by others (particularly in the service area) can have major consequences.  Some of my dependence on others – the idea that everything can be bought – can be dangerous.

It’s natural to ask, what is all of this content good for?  (A math professor use to ask this about matrices back in my undergraduate days at GWU.)  A short answer to this question  could be encapsulated by the movie “Divergent”.   My father used to say “The majority has some rights, too”, but the “majority” makes demands on those who are different.  The “majority” needs to understand (way beyond the edicts of religious scripture through the voice of others) what it really wants with some intellectual basis, and those who are “different” need to face that some of the things demanded of them (or “us”) are morally compelling.  It was interesting to me (the review is on the Movies blog March 24) that the society was willing to let the members of “Dauntless”, whose behaviors could indeed seem brutal or at least boorish, take all the risks for everybody else.  On the other hand, the “Erudite” and the “Abnegated” both wanted to believe they were better than everybody else.

Musicians (as Arnold Schoenberg once pointed out) may have it easier than others.  They can say what they want under the table and hide behind ambiguity. Writers don’t have the same luxury once they place themselves in public.  I really found that out when I was a substitute teacher and crashed in 2005. Online reputation really matters.

And who will receive my messages?  I do expect fellow “divergents” (or “factionless”) to benefit from it.  But there’s a problem right away, extracted from the movie.  Why should some other “factioned” person, on whom I depend,  consume content from me designed to make him feel, well, bad, or less “good” than someone else?  What is the point of producing content if “you” don’t really care enough about the people “as people” who use it?  You have to interact with them.  And healthful personal interaction goes along with forming and having families and a personal stake in the future.

My perspective comes from having to react to demands from the outside world.  I get all kinds of pressures, go join other people’s causes, to spend time on them, to show preference, to answer personal pleas, get into things that I wouldn’t have thought my business.  The game certainly changed when I “retired” and had self-published by omniscient world view. 

Some of this “interruption” comes from telemarketing and robo calls.  I could say things have changed since I grew up, but the picture is complicated.  Hyperindividualism has made ordinary sales culture, well accepted in the past, seem like unwelcome hucksterism (no doubt partly because of the multiple Internet and phone scams).  Individualism has developed at the same time while public awareness of needs of others has grown and the capacity to do things about these needs (especially in medicine) has increased.  That means that people need more interaction with others, to justify new efforts to help them, not less. 

So, the phone calls come.  The appeals are not just for money but for time.  People are hurting in this difficult economy and they will barge in.  They demand my emotion, attention and even playing favorites.  That’s something I took myself out of when I published the kind of book I did and took on the idea of journaling everything.  I can’t drop everything and become just one interest’s advocate.  Maybe I could endorse causes if I was a “true” celebrity, but I’m not there (yet).  

So I ignore almost all of them.  There are just too many. I do my giving through an automated mechanism at a bank, requiring no interaction with people.  And yet I worked as a “telefunder” (for the Minnesota Orchestra) after my 2001 layoff and barged in on people myself just a little more than a decade ago.  (People would say that phone bank work was the only kind of job some people could get. Play fair?)  Or, as I enter a theater, almost late for a showing that I have already paid for, a ghost intercepts me at the door and asks me to “help him out”.  I really have no idea how to respond.

We can talk about sacrifice, and even love.  We can say you show love only when doing something for someone costs you something – means you don’t make your own goals that make you independent.  But of course to make your goals you have to depend on others (at least to do their jobs).  It’s an endless circle.  If it breaks, it becomes class warfare, Noam Chomsky style. 
But this “cost in purpose” has something to do with how “you” value other people.  (I wish the English language had an impersonal form of “you” the way French does.)  If all human life is sacred and to be valued, then “you” have to let others, who may have been simply more vulnerable because of lack of “service” (or because inequality tends to promote bad choices), mean something to “you”.  That is the hardest part of all.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Colorado school faces controversy over student expression of empathy for classmate with cancer

A school in Grand Junction, CO, Caprock Academy, sent an elementary school girl home when she showed up with her head shaved, to show sympathy with a classmate undergoing chemotherapy. The girl had her parents’ permission.
The school relented after extensive media coverage, as in the New York Daily News, here
I mentioned a “Be Brave and Shave” event in Arlington VA (at the Westover Market) in a posting here Nov. 8, 2009.  I have personally never wanted to make a point of offering “my body” as sympathy, as if “my body” didn’t matter.   I don’t want to make that “OK”, although that leads to a whole another train of thought. 
I suppose the school could say that it doesn’t want other students to feel pressured or coerced to believe that they are supposed to do the same thing.
This sort of thing did not happen when I was growing up in the 1950s, but then again, much less could be done.  In a way, in those days, there was much less call for sympathy, or empathy (not quite the same things).   I guess one could call this practice “radical solidarity”.

In another distantly related story, the Timberlake Christian School near Lynchburg, VA barred a grade school female student for looking too much like a boy with short hair.  The school complained that some kids didn't know her gender, gawker story here.  All of this reminds me of the days when "the common good" (defending the country and giving it babies) seemed to depend on strict adherence to gender roles, certainly reinforced by the sights of Lynchburg. 

On March 26, ABC World News Tonight aired an "America Strong" followup on this by others at the school:

ABC US News | ABC Business News
There are also several YouTube stories on the incident:

Wikipedia attribution link for Grand Junction Skyline.I recall only one visit, in December 1966.

Second picture, Jerry Falwell's Liberty University (my visit, 2005).

Wikipedia attribution link for third  picture here

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Writers debate the "it's free" problem; mention of Writers Emergency Assistance Fund

Wordpress has a valuable debate on the issue of “writing for free” (and saying what you want), and being paid to write what others want.  The columnists are Julie Sweiterst Collazo, Caitlin Kelly, Kristen Hansen-Brakeman, and Deborah Lee-Luskin, link here.
I had never heard of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund (WEAF) before, link which Caitlin supports.
The writers generally look askance at writing for free (Julie mentions “The Huffington Post” as guilty) and thinks that the practice (by those who don’t need the immediate income or have other wealth) harms writers who need to get paid for a living. On the other hand, writers who aren’t already celebrities need to write for free and develop a large Internet presence to attract agents and paying clients.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Another company advertises heavily that it can help repair online reputations

Another online reputation management company, “”, has been advertising aggressively on television recently.  According to Wikipedia, it was founded in 2009, and used to be called “Reputation Changer” and is located near Philadelphia.

Wikipedia says that it can create content to place favorable material visibly in search engines and will sometimes work with search engine companies to remove false statements made on ratings sites, especially by those thought not to be customers. 

I did “join” Angie’s List a few months ago in order to get the names of possible contractors.  I seem to get a lot of aggressive email ads from them.  I do not write reviews on ratings sites, however.  I will mention a (contractor) company unfavorably on a blog regarding my own experience only when there is already a pattern of credible negative comments with similar complaints by many other people online. When I do so, I’ll generally try to make specific suggestions as to what should be done to improve service.  I do make gentle comments about some public accommodations, like how good a job of sound and movie projection I find in a particular theater in my movie reviews.  And I will discuss past employment and (in one major incident) educational (college) experiences when the outcome had a major impact on the course of my own life. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Anonymous speech on rating sites might not be protected by "The Opinion Rule" in defamation suits

There has been more discussion recently of a decision by a Virginia appeals court to require Yelp to turn over the identities of persons who wrote negative reviews of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning. 
Generally, the court said, anonymous criticism of a business would be protected by the first amendment. But a business would have the right to determine whether the author of the comment had actually been a specific customer of the specific business.   If the writer had not purchased or attempted to purchase products or services from the business, there could be no first amendment protection, because the “opinion rule” could no longer apply since the person had not been a customer. 
But the identities of the speakers should not be used for any purpose other than determining whether they were customers. 
Still, other media organizations have strongly criticized the court’s opinion. There is some more discussion of the case on “” on Jan. 15, 2014 here.
The NBC Today show March 20 commented that a few new review sites were considering requiring customers to identify themselves or at least prove that they had used the businesses, but NBC gave no real details that I could find online yet.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Law professors argue that freelancers need to be able to turn down work that contradicts their personal or religious values

Given the recent furor over the idea that some small businesses might not want to support openly gay customers (as with the recent flap over a law in Arizona and Jan Brewer’s veto), Eugene Volokh and Ilya Shapiro have an important perspective on p. A15 of Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, “Choosing what to photograph is a form of speech”, link here. The specific context is obviously about a photographer’s refusing to work a same-sex wedding. 
The authors say they back gay marriage and actually the specific circumstance they talk about occurred in New Mexico.
They draw a distinction between a company open as essentially a public accommodation discriminating, which they would oppose, and a freelance writer or artist turning down work that contradicts his or her values.  That is certainly the libertarian position.
I certainly have to fight this battle in another way.  It’s actually hard to earn a living with your work and avoid the “conflict of interest” problem that I have explored often in the past.   I can’t let my own life be hijacked into being forced to say someone else’s message.  Yet, I’ve heard at least one pitch from a possible pseudo employer, “We give you the words”.  That was back in 2002, but the presented became downright defensive when I challenged him.  The problem is that the need to provide for others can draw one into mandatory hucksterism.