Saturday, January 24, 2015

Could "user generated content" without gatekeepers be on the firing line?


I have to confess a mental knee-jerk whenever I hear comments that young adults in the West are being recruited to radical causes (right now, it’s radical Islam, but in the future it could be something else) easily by social media. 
   
Remember the underlying process for social media today:  there is no gatekeeper, and no pre-screening, and generally no downstream liability for facilitators.  The accompanying byline is “user generated content”, or UGC.  There are two ways people become “famous” and generate influence, without supervision.  One is primarily the Web 1.0 model, being found by search engines, which took a lot less effort than people thought.  (YouTube primarily belongs to this model.) The other is embedded largely in Web 2.0 and 3.0, social media (the two biggies being Facebook and Twitter), predicated on building substantial lists of “friends” or “followers”, who find your content directed to them.  Social media typically lies in the “deep web” and is largely not indexed.  Except that stand-alone blogs are rather a hybrid, as they get indexed, but often offer a mechanism for followers, though they tend to not attract nearly as many.  Flat websites also had ways of inviting people to join mailing lists, but these have largely been supplanted by modern social media.
  
I got into this as a successor to self-publishing books, starting in the late 1990s.  I found I could cover a tremendous range of interrelated content (all in orbit around my own connection to the military gay ban in the early 1990s as Clinton took office), and influence political debate by the idea that I was “always there” and being found.  My actual numbers did not matter particularly. I did not need to depend economically on unit sales, so my interest was always in the content itself, not on sales distribution strategies. And the content was predicated on a certain model of journalistic objectivity, to be able to mention all points of view, and all facts, even if bringing some points up could possibly place me in danger or even others connected to me. 
  
Needless to say, over time, I got a lot of ear over this.  In the middle 2000’s, II would be approached about joining ventures that would end my former “double life” and, as I would soon figure out, force me to use my online presence to develop “leads” (out of social media “friends” or “followers”) to sell somebody else’s wares, not my own.  I would also have to fend off calls about why I wouldn’t join mass campaigns in order to generate mass hardcopy sales of my books, at high prices.  That might help somebody else make a living, but it really didn’t matter to disseminating the content or being “famous”.
  
You can see where this heads or leads.  I haven’t had a lot of responsibility to provide for others in my life.  Once one has dependents, one has to earn income and one has to take sides, become partisan, and in some sense compete with others for the sake of dependents.  The personalized “journalistic objectivity” model for living becomes an insular indulgence, a non-sustainable pipe dream.  One interesting aspect of my self-publishing experience is that once I was quasi-famous, others would try to get me involved in their own lives in ways that previously hadn’t been “my business”. 
  
A couple of things.  One reason I didn’t have dependents is that my sexuality didn’t lead to procreation – to having my own children.   Earlier in life I rather viewed all this as a personalized choice, but in public terms almost an “afterthought”.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had more reason to wonder about the importance of lineage. But it was the eldercare experience with my mother that impressed on me that “responsibility” doesn’t always wait for procreation.  Nevertheless, my “social aloofness” presented a certain kind of chicken-egg paradox.  I didn’t have the ability to “protect” women and children like a “normal man” (that is, I wasn’t “competitive” enough to play in the normal big leagues) so I went in my own direction.  Society became technological and more permissive, and offered opportunities at an individual level impossible for previous generations.  But I can see I really could have been even more “successful” had I been born a few decades later.  (What would Mark Zuckerberg have amounted to had he been born in 1943?  That’s another existential paradox.)  In any sense, I’ve encountered “demands” for others from a certain compassion, almost feminine and submissive stance with respect to others immediately in my world, particularly with respect to eldercare (until 2010) but in other ways before.
  
The other thing is that I came out of the estate situation better off than might have been expected.  I did “inherit” some capital, which is bone to the radical Left that finds the “rentier” immoral in exploiting the labor of others.  But I has also saved a lot when working.  I benefitted from conservative spending habits when I was working (I didn’t have education debt, and I didn’t have dependents, so I didn’t need to worry about the loan sharks of the world), and my father, in particular, had been very conservative with the family’s assets, getting the house paid off, and investing in utilities and energy, when they earned a lot.  Yes, oil and gas (including literally one well in Ohio owned by a relative) gave me a ride.
  

So, I realize people can rightfully expect some things from me.  I’ll come back to these in another post soon (Oh no!)  I do think that the way people in my situation behave, publicly, does have an impact on the faith that less fortunate “others” have in the system – whether they really have a “chance” and whether the world will really work for them.  It’s both economic and, curiously, personal, even in a “mind your own business” world.  Since life cannot be “fair”, I understand how people turn to religion and faith to get answers to questions that, at an individual level, provide an unacceptable ethical impasse.  It’s too bad when religion gets wrapped up in tribalism rather than rational individual ethics.
  
So here I am, making a career of UGC, which, because of the “conflict of interest” and “implicit content’ ideas I’ve developed here before, has precluded almost any other career involving becoming anyone’s tool (even “Christ’s”).  Becoming a math teacher was perhaps an “almost”. 
  
Yet, it’s troubling.  The permissive attitude toward UGC does allow harm to come to others.  We all know how:  pornography, cyberbullying, increasing risks of cybersecurity, and now an apparently easy recruiting tool for “enemies”.  After 9/11, there was concern that ordinary amateur sites might be hacked to provide steganographic instructions to terrorists (and I had a hack in April 2002). 
    
It must be said that many responsible sources question if the “recruiting” is “that easy.”  British Prime Minister David Cameron says a lot more must be going on to explain why some relatively well-off youths become radicalized.  It doesn’t happen, he thinks, because one social media post or one website.  Inequality goes much deeper than just income and wealth (or even unearned capital) and physical possessions;  it digs deep into personal values.
  
Nevertheless, it seems that our UGC environment seems amazingly permissive. 
  
The obvious place that this discussion starts is censorship.  The Supreme Court has said that content-based government censorship is unconstitutional.  We know that from the COPA trial in 2007 (my “fil” blog).  Censorship is allowed only for narrowly defined categories of illegality, like obscenity or child pornography.  Classified (military and police) information will fall into this area (yes, Wikileaks makes some legal questions obscure).  Indeed, Martin London, on p. A19 of the New York Times today, January 24, 2015, argues “Why tolerate terrorist publications?”, link here. He gives a cogent discussion of Inspire (which does not come up in major search engines).
  
But there are other familiar traps.  Most of them involve downstream liability.  In 2013, state attorneys general wanted Congress to limit the effect of Section 230.  We all know how SOPA (2011), intended to fight piracy (itself a legitimate aim) could have undermined downstream liability copyright immunity (Safe Harbor) from ordinary posters.
  
Other traps could include the idea that individual users share more responsibility for the possibility that others can misuse the services that their (and my) self-expression is predicated on.  One can imagine mandatory liability insurance (which no insurance company right now can underwrite, although it gets into the tricky subject of umbrella insurance).  Or one could expand the digital executor idea and require that every individual social media or personal web account (even for an adult) have a co-signer, at least to know what to do if something happens to the original speaker. (A less drastic variation could be to require all web account holders to be able to log on and respond to messages at least once per established time interval, to handle problems or complaints -- an issue for people who travel a lot, especially to some areas overseas,)  Or one could limit UGC to whitelisted environments: you could only distribute content first to people who know you and acknowledge you.

Would this be constitutional?  Although content-based restriction on speech is unconstitutional (generally), restrictions on self-distribution (as without insurance) might not be,  Or does COPA cver that, too? 

The latter would be particularly catastrophic for me.  I put it out and let people find it, and they do.  I don’t recruit people to sell them things or get them to “follow me” (pun).  I’m not personally competitive enough, at 71, to do that – and I never have been “masculine” enough (in a Rosenfels sense) indeed to do that. (Or, like J. Alfred Prufrock, not potent enough, if you believe T.S. Elliot).  And “nobody else’s cause” is good enough. No, I don’t “belong” in that sense.  (See Book reviews, Fowler, Aug. 27, 2014).  No one owns me, I’m “nobody’s tool” (as with the teen character Bob in “The Zero Theorem”, Movies, Sept. 23, 2014). 
  
And even one more hooker is the resistance of most people to advertising, which is what supports all the ‘free content” on the Web. "Do not track" figures into this. I don’t need the advertising income myself, but companies that provide the service platforms do need it, although there are new concerns about keeping drive-by malware out of ads. And there is a question about how this works out with fully paid shared hosting. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Barrett Brown gets stiff sentence for "threats" despite formal dropping of charges associated with his hyperlink.


In a case widely reported before, Barrett Brown was sentenced to almost five years in prison for a variety of charges (transmitting threats and obstruction of justice) related to his sharing of a link to “classified information” (including stolen credit card information), despite the fact that the DOJ had formally dropped the charges regarding the link itself. Truth-out has the story   Brown also ordered to pay $900000 in fines and restitution.  Brown has created “Project PM”.  He supports the idea that information obtained by hackers is important. Brown was not accused of the hack itself, but of “after the fact” accessory activity, associated with Anonymous.  Brown had uncovered a plan (at the security firm Stratfor) to discredit Glenn Greenwald and Wikileaks.
  
Candice Bernd of Turthout reports the story here

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a detailed statement here
   
Kevin Gallagher speaks for “Free Barrett Brown” here.


The government reportedly tries to use the link to justify the longer sentence.  There is some question as to whether he gets credit for time served. 

The problems here including asking “who is a legitimate journalist” (including an amateur blogger), and who has crossed the line into “active participation”?  Any active blogger could stumble upon a link without knowing the information behind it, and be charged with conspiracy for sharing it.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Does First Amendment protect Brandon Duncan's lyrics; prosecuted for enticing gang activity in San Diego under 2000 law


When is an artist criminally responsible (or in civil cases, too) for violence his rap or works is thought to “inspire”?  I thought there was better First Amendment protection than this.  San Diego County, CA prosecutors are going after Brandon Duncan for supposed connection with up to nine gang-related shootings in San Diego, using a 2000 California law, Proposition 21, which could criminalize any activity with a street gang “with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in criminal gang activity.” But Duncan is promoting gang activity with his music?  Here’s a typical story
  
This whole thing has a weird structural parallel to Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law.
   
A conviction could lead to the California law's overturning in federal court as a "content-based restriction on free speech". 
     
Don Lemon and attorney Midran Charles covered the issue on CNN Tonight.
  
However, the RT article links to a story about a rapper (Denis Cuspert) in Germany who joined ISIS and is using it to recruit jihadists from Britain (Daily Mail, Nov. 2014, here  )


  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Copyright for Creativity" group in Europe issues a "Manifesto"


Here’s “The Copyright Manifesto” (oh, no, not another “pronouncement from on high”), for the European Union, from a group called “Copyright for Creativity”, with link here
   
The basic flaws concern the lack of a “fair use” idea and inconsistent specific “exceptions” among all the different constituent countries.

There is also a paper by Julia Reda that allows users to make comments, here

In fact, in Europe, there is no copyright exception for works produced in the public domain, and the legality of hyperlinks and embeds is questionable, although a decision made in November (reported here on January 14).
  
Many companies (especially producing independent film) often produce and distribute “European” works in the United States now because American law, for all its flaws, is still clearer. 

If only Aaron Swartz were still around…  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Past sermons, like "What it means to be a man" and "Why we don't get things done"


Back in 1966, when I started graduate school at the University of Kansas, I sometimes walked down to Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence from “Mt. Oread” (150 feet higher) to “regular” church services on Sunday mornings. 
  
I found a Presbyterian church where the minister gave funny sermons, including one “What it means to be a man”, and was willing to talk about James Bond movies, and about Sean Connery as a male role model for the times.  Really.
  
There was a Methodist church nearby where the minister one time gave a sermon, “Why don’t we get things done?”   That strikes me as important today.  At 71, I don’t have forever to complete my own path in life, and sometimes I can’t afford distractions, disruptions and delays. But there’s also the whole problem, we get diverted because we make little mistakes that at least then keep us on edge (in an OCD sense).  We make oversights because we aren’t paying enough attention to input coming at us until we are ready to listen to it.  Maybe it’s easier to pay attention when you have others to provide for.  That’s the paradox.  One could imagine a sermon “The Mind Your Own Business Society”.    

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Congregational meeting considers balance of individualism, teamwork, and old fashioned authoritarian "committees"


Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held a breakfast and lunch session (as well as the worship service) with congregational consultant Rev. Dr. John Wimberly  (site) , actually from the Presbyterian denomination.
  
During the “Sunday school” portion, Wimberly was discussing how “Generation X” (age 35-44) looks for church affiliation.  One interesting point is that this is the first generation that often experienced mandatory community service as a high school or sometimes college graduation requirement.  (For example, George Washington University in Washington DC will introduce incoming freshman to an “annual day of service” on a Saturday each September.)  And many volunteer groups now require training and minimum time commitments from volunteers as well as staffs. 
  
As a result, this group is used to the idea of “teamwork” as opposed to working in “committees”, which it sees as rather authoritarian. I used to associate the idea of committee with “draft board”, after all.
  
But “teamwork” has supplanted the idea of hyperindividualism, Dr. Wimberly said, in an answer to a question from me. I pointed out that the goal of a “team” can still demand commitment and loyalties that are inconsistent with personal achievement goals.  He said my attitude was the same as his was during the 1990s, as the Internet was taking shape, during the best of the Clinton years (a conservative Congress but relatively socially liberal by fiscally responsible president – Bill Clinton).  
The sermon was called "It Is Never Over", and I wondered if it would bear any relation to the film by Andrew Jenks, "It's Not Over", reviewed on the Movies blog Jan. 15.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

E-commerce sites, hosted by major providers, owned by small businesses, may be "safer" than major corporate retail sites


At a social gathering today, I did gain some useful “intelligence”.  It seems like merchant accounts do work pretty well for small businesses, and take care of the encryption requirements (and other customer information issues) to process credit cards.
  
I had been under the impression, ten years ago, that e-commerce hosting was much more expensive than general shared hosting, but now it seems to run $30-$80 a month (most companies would need the upper end).  High end non-commercial shared hosting is typically around $30 a month.
  
The business person said that small businesses using these services have not been vulnerable to the hacks that large companies (like Target, Home Depot, etc) have experienced. 

Some small businesses have card readers attached to smart phones.  It would sound as though debit cards would be a problem until the new chips are available.  But even newer debit cards will need to be protected by metal foil (ID blog Nov. 14, 2014). 
  
That brings up another question with sales of media items – individual book copies and CD’s or DVD’s.  I’ve pretty much depended on Amazon (and maybe BN) and as well as the original author publishing services operations (iUniverse, XLibris).  I have sold copies of books to people, usually from email, usually with check (Paypal is possible – see Books, Oct. 4, 2014). 
  
It has been common for authors to set up sites selling their books by themselves with their own merchant sites.  A few filmmakers have done this, selling DVD’s only this way before moving to Amazon, for several months at least.  I’m not sure what the sense of this is.  Possibly there is a “political” point, not giving in to the supposed “monopoly” of Amazon, especially (and some controversy over the way some authors – not me -- are affected by its Kindle purchase pricing). 
   
An author selling this way (often with copies printed for him or her at a volume discount) still needs to handle the name and address of a customer to send the book or CD, but would not need to keep it online. 
    
A merchant account, however, is predicated on volumes of items, and ordinary business concepts like price-points.  This is indeed “Shark Tank” selling, in theory.  Retailing or dealing with many individual customers (even in wholesale, as my own father did for decades) is the major objective.  It takes over the concern with content for its own sake, which is still my game.  I view all contact as interrelated, like in the movie “Cloud Atlas”.  I realize this is a controversial “model”, not sustainable for a lot of people, and only to be followed when life circumstances justify it.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Government still focused more on site "misuse" than on real security concerns (EFF); more on social media "brainwashing"


Electronic Frontier Foundation has a valuable piece criticizing the Obama administration’s (along with David Cameron in Britain) plans to improve cybersecurity and monitor the Internet for homeland security.  Given recent current events, the collective need to “watch our backs” is indeed very understandable. 
   
The link for the piece by Mark Jaycox and Lee Tien is here  However, the focus of EFF criticism seems to focus in large part on attempts to enlarge the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in ways that could catch a na├»ve user and put him in legal trouble.  For example, sharing a password to a paid video site, because of piracy concerns, might lead to increased prison sentences.  Of scanning a site for vulnerabilities, in order to report on them, could be a crime.  (Somehow, some organizations, like Carnegie’s CERT, can do this legally;  maybe a web security company, with some kind of license, could, but a blogger or graduate student writing a paper on vulnerabilities could not.) All of this is disturbing, given the lesson of Aaron Swartz. 
     
The comments by Obama and Cameron on being able to decrypt messages used by terrorists were general and non-specific at the news conference today (story on abc here). The problem is “going dark” when security services are precluded from looking at encrypted messages.  Cameron and EU officials want US companies to offer "back doors" into their encryption algorithms for detection of terrorists.  
       
There has been talk on CNN recently over whether social media is dangerous to young adults who are easily radicalized.  This issue came up on AC360 last night.  But David Cameron suggested that many jihadists had grown up with opportunity and advantages and doubted that radicalization was as simple as “brainwashing” on social media.  

Timothy Egan has a piece "Your Free Speech, and Mine, in the New York Times, here.  There really is a connection between free speech and acceptance of individualism, and the inequality that goes with innovation. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

European Union follows US 7th Circuit, not regarding embeds as possible copyright infringers in most cases


There is a case from the European Union that suggests that court still generally don’t recognize a website that embeds content that itself turns out to be infringing on copyright and gets removed, as guilty of contributory copyright infringement.
   
In Policy Review on Nov. 26, 2014, Philippa Warr writes about a case of BestWater mbh International v. Michael Mebes and Setfan Posch, and the writer is somewhat critical of the opinion as potentially encouraging more piracy, link here.  Also videos are the most common embeds, still images and PDF’s can also be included in “iframe”.  There’s another, even more detailed story Kluwer copyright blog here.
    
Generally, a blogger intending to embed just one video to illustrate something (like scenes from a movie, for a review) has no sure way of knowing that the original content does not infringe, although YouTube does have some automation that does prevent some infringing material from being uploaded.  I think a problem could occur if someone deliberately provided many embeds of the same source company with the intention of making it look like the content was the “embedder’s” and really wanted to encourage users to bypass paying for content as had been intended. 
    
The decision in Flava Works. v. Gunter (or myVidster) by the Seventh Circuit in Aug. 2012 still seems to hold.  The Wikipedia details are here and I haven’t heard of a SCOTUS appeal.  
  
The logic of the EU court is encouraging for free speech here, even if it wasn't so much with it's "right to be forgotten" ruling recently.

Monday, January 12, 2015

FEC oversight of blogs (with regard to campaign finance) might come up again, after ten years of peace


The Washington Times has an op-ed by Jenny Beth Martin and Matt Kibbe warning that Ann Ravel, the new chairman of the Federal Election Commission, will try to get rules changes from the FCC (less likely from a GOP Congress) allowing the FEC to regulate “free content” on the Internet, including blogs like this one, that could be construed as political advocacy.  The link is here. The title is "The FEC's Internet Gag Rule: Liberals don't want Americans speaking truth to power".  Indeed, sometimes they don't. 
   
Some of this is a reaction to recent Supreme Court rulings protecting paid political advertising as normal free speech. Much political advertising is nominally paid for, but “almost free” because it carries ads and generally does not try to earn significant revenue, except incidentally.  That is true of this one.
  
The FEC decided it could keep a hands-off attitude in 2006, after considerable flak earlier over whether blogs and op-eds were really “political campaign materials”, since a 2002 court ruling had left open that interpretation of McCain-Feingold.  I have explained this on Wordpress here in February 2014, link. Of course, whether "amateur blogs" and the "press" (or the French Fourth Estate) are legally the same also comes up into play, as noted Saturday. 
  

I’ve explained elsewhere a major incident at West Potomac High School in October 2005 involving me as a substitute teacher, in an improbable but coincidental chain of occurrences in response to a Washington Post article on October 11, 2005 here (“Cyber Loophole”) and a now notorious editorial in the Washington Times Oct. 12 “Suffocating the First Amendment” here which implied that a blog like mine could not be maintained without expensive legal gatekeeping.  The rest of the story s here on this blog July 27, 2007 and it sounds like a movie plot for a courtroom thriller (and, yes, I am working on a screenplay based on this.)  What happened behind the scenes is a "mystery" and I don't think we've heard the last of this even today.  
     
Let’s see if this FEC Beast has really surfaced again.  I know from some underground scuttlebutt that stuff happened there after this controversy ten years ago. History repeats itself.  As a "conservative" newspaper, TWT loves to see that. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Revisiting the Newseum's First Amendment exhibits after the recent serious "real world" challenges (violence in France, threats to Sony)


Today, late in the afternoon, after visiting the NBC4 Health Expo, I stopped at the Newseum, near the Archives Metro Stop (Green Line) to renew my membership, having missed the demonstrations in the cold Wednesday night there in support of Charlie Hebdo, slain (with up to 15 others) in France by Islamic extremists this week.
  

I did visit the small addition to the Civil Rights exhibit to see the posters from the Ferguson, MO protest (only item was from Missouri, but hopefully the Newseum will add a lot of other material on this soon), and then went and reviewed the First Amendment exhibit on the same level.
  
The First Amendment has separate provisions for Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom to Petition.  They are not exactly the same things.  A court ruling favorable to one of them doesn’t always guarantee a similar ruling on the others, although it may influence it. It's interesting that the government has been willing to pass sedition laws when it sees fit, despite the First Amendment;  in World War I, criticizing the military draft was seen as an unacceptable threat to national security, precisely over the irony that Woodrow Wilson (a Democrat) needed the power to force young males to sacrifice themselves.  
  

The exhibit has panels on “modern issues” for each one of these.  The main modern setting for “freedom of speech” is, of course, the Internet (cyber-freedom). 
  

For Freedom of the Press, there was a panel examining the question as to whether amateur bloggers have the same protections as the formal press.  The courts have generally been favorable to this notion (as with the COPA case), although maybe less so in the area of shielding journalists from disclosing sources. 
  

There was also a panel regarding a blogger who was sued by Apple for disclosing trade secrets.  The big case involved “Think Secrets” run by Nick Ciarelli, Wired story of the resolution here (the blogger lost and had to shut down his site). There is a useful presentation on the problem here. (Section 230 was mentioned in the litigation.) 


The resolve to defend “freedom of the press” in the wake of the attacks in France seems strong, but most media outlets will not publish the “cartoons”.  One could say that, with respect to Islam, the cartoons present a similar degree of offense to the “n” and “f” words in western culture.  More disturbing is the question of whether social media and amateur blogging could be construed as endangering the public.  “Social media” and public blogs are not the same thing – the latter is more “true publishing” for its own sake, and these can have different impacts. Blogs have sometimes been a tool for radicalization and providing instructions, just as social media can provide a tool for “recruiting” and both could allow steganography (a point often made right after 9/11 but quickly forgotten).  I’m reading the rather naysaying book “The Internet Is Not the Answer” by “Andrew Keen”.  I’ll review it soon (I had reviewed “The Cult of the Amateur” on June 26, 2007).  So far, he’s mainly talking about job loss, but he does consider Internet fame an unearned, false reward that might not hold up forever as a fundamental right if others are really put in jeopardy, however indirectly. 


Thursday, January 08, 2015

EFF addresses online harassment as very difficult to deal with in practice


In the wake of the attacks in France, Electronic Frontier Foundation today has a short piece  by Sophia Cope and Jillian York, but a much longer and I think more pertinent piece “Facing the Challenge of Online Harassment”, by Nadia Kayyali and Danny O’Brien, link here . The article discusses the right problem: it’s not occasional snarky comments, but the possibility that controversial content attracts the hostility of the wrong individual or group, very often an interest that experiences the world from an authoritarian, and often (but not always) fundamentally religious perspective.  Sometimes the authoritarianism is representative of the extreme right (racist or homophobic views) or extreme left (overwrought indignation about “exploitation”), or some kind of statist “nationalism” (Vladimir Putin’s mentality).    
  
EFF points out (as did a comparable piece by Peter Bergen on CNN, linked on my International Issues blog Wednesday night) that the practical consequences for people have sometimes been severe, and beyond the pale of law, such as being driven “off the web” or even forced to change hiding – with witness protection and changed identities as the outlier.  In fact, the 2006 Lifetime film by Timothy Bond, “Family in Hiding” is one of the most difficult to watch I have ever encountered.  I am reminded of the song by Otto Blucker, “Find You”, where Belgian actor Timo Descamps sings “Hiding isn’t what we do; hiding isn’t what we’re made for, even when the pain goes through, we survive” (link ). 
  
EFF also points out that it is very difficult to craft legislation to curb harassment without becoming overbroad. A critical and double-edged controversy concerns anonymity, or, on the other hand, Facebook's policy requiring real names. EFF also mentioned a proposal in the UK to require websites to log all visitors (the Guardian reference did not work), but web hosting services normally provide user access logs identifying IP addresses, files visited, and search arguments used.  This was particularly useful to me in 2005 when I had an "incident" while substitute teaching. 
  

In 2000, a particular person got upset over a review I had written of the film version of Sebastian Junger’s “A Perfect Storm” on (now defunct) Hometown AOL’s old “Movie Grille” board.  I had commented on how the fisherman characters in the film felt compelled to risk taking their ship through the storm because they would not get paid.  The person thought I was arrogant in interpreting the author’s and director’s intentions, and seemed to confuse a comment with what happens in a movie with endorsement of the political condition that allowed it to happen.  He sent some nasty emails (in the days before spam) before stopping.  A few times in movie and book reviews, people have confused an author’s or film’s position about an issue with the idea that I must be supporting it because I even mentioned it.  

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A visit to a "Boyhood" mandatory boot camp site


Yesterday, I did a day trip to the western Chesapeake Bay in winter, trying to find the point where the family used to take the ferry in the 1950s on the way to “the Beach” years before Bay Bridge was built.  I visited Beverly Beach, where we once stayed when I was about three, and particularly Camp Letts, a YMCA facility (link) which my parents made me attend as a boy to toughen me, I think.  I didn’t like the pressure.


You enter the property off Md 214, itself off Rt 2 south of Annapolis, and pass an estate, before the road turns dirt and potholed.  But it goes past an endless trail of outdoor activities: most of all, equestrian, but also paintball, “team building”, and eventually winding up with an extensive camping community with a variety of yurts, huts, tents and dorms. It rather looks like the “boot camp” community on “another planet” in my screenplay (“Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted” – or is that “Abducted”).  In the twilight, in winter but without snow (yet) and a purple “perpetual twilight” sunset, it was all quite surreal, indeed seeming like the first day of alien captivity (maybe around a much cooler “Sun”).  I could say that it looked a bit like an intentional community (see Issues blog, April 7 2012 discussion of “Twin Oaks”) but much more stark.
  

The point of my 1952 (estimated) visit was to get me to learn more manly skills.  I even recall my own piano teacher saying, when I was about nine, that I needed to grow up to be a “normal boy”. 
That’s how it was then.  The view was, that for the good of everybody, boys became men who protected women and children, sacrificially if necessary.  When push came to shove, the future of your tribe or your family came before your own specific future, however special your talents.  Today, tribal societies that perceive themselves (often with justification) to have enemies still follow these values, often masked my religious scripture. 
  
I’ve noted that I will produce a “video” soon that summarizes my books, not assuming you’ve read, say, the first one.  A overriding question is, how people who seem themselves as “different” or even “special” should behave in a reasonably democratic society, or perhaps too in an authoritarian one.  Coercion often forces us to look at our values.  (In “Smallville”, the super-talented alien teen Clark Kent says, “I’m different, not special.”
  

There are several major observations about my own “different” life that seem unsettling, although it’s not clear how they add up. 
  
One is that I was not as able to “take care” of others physically as expected, and I became finicky.  Some might even say sissy or cowardly.  The “moral” point is that I left the “risk taking” and “dirty work” to others, if I walked away from my share.  This was the mentality that had driven male-only conscription in the days of the Vietnam-era draft (and deferments).  I’m not sure if this was real “disability” in the usual sense of genetics (or epigenetics) and congenital hardship.  Maybe it was part of autism, in that to develop my “talents” (music, intellect), my brain, not having enough disk space, pruned out the other possible motor skills too soon. 
  

This did affect my values.  I did not sense even a latent desire to father my own children, have my own lineage.  Since I was an only child, this could be interpreted as “family death”.  Therefore, I did not develop a proto-instinctual desire to “have” women (or have intercourse) the way straight boys in college typically talk.  On the other hand, I did develop an elitist attitude.  I saw some young men, who “had it all”, as possessing more “virtue” than others – yet they could “lose it” in an absolute sense by sacrifice for others, as in the military.  I did not develop a sense of compassion for those with less or the “less fortunate”.  This led to a sense of indifference or insularity as an adult, in situations that seem to call for solidarity, loyalty, and particularly emotion.  But my “Ayn Rand” attitude really did not seem unusual in the world in which I grew up.  In earlier generations, there was less that really could be done for people with disabilities, or to prolong lives for those with deadly diseases, especially cancer.  There was not a public expectation that they need a lot of support as there is in the media today, although there was support of a different sort in faith-based fellowship.  So I wound up in a peculiar situation, like an alien observer, living on the fringes but seeing everything, privileged but precarious.
  

Socialization in earlier times presented a bit of a paradox.  You took care “of your own” first.  Ideas of sexual morality – the often religious idea that all sexuality should be reserved strictly for those in intimate committed marriages raising children and (as life spans increased gradually) taking care of the elderly – was seen as a way to make things “locally fair” and get everyone to do what they should.  It is easier to find real satisfaction in “family values” if you know everyone else has to.  So a public homosexual was a distraction, having less responsibility for others and more disposable income for himself, suddenly difficult to compete with in the workplace because he might work for less, and capable of making “normal men” feel less secure that their own marital sexuality will remain rewarding.
  
By the 1990s, society had become much more “accommodating” for someone “like me” – more libertarian, less inclined to try to channel those who are “different” to ready themselves for sacrifice sometimes for the good of others.  Times were better under Clinton, as the Internet offered new opportunities for self-expression without gatekeepers, for those who did not compete was well socially in a conventional way within a power or authority structure.  Controversy over sexual orientation and its indirect influence on everyone else, was shown to be a proxy for something much bigger. One of the biggest concerns was that my "fantasy projection" could undermine the ability of others to make and keep marital relationships that become challenged by hardships, including risk taking and "sacrifice".
    
But many of the problems since 2000 – most of all 9/11 – showed again that hyperindividualsim could be dangerous, and could bring on the enemies, who suddenly were all too willing to blame ordinary individuals for benefiting from the indulgences that their own governments had facilitated.  At the same time, the role of bad luck for some and bad karma for many of the rest of us was becoming apparent, especially with younger people.  New openness to volunteering and charity was seen in the media, and sometimes it was supposed to get personal.  Suddenly, the lives of others were “your business”.  Having made myself a bit of an Internet pundit without the normal personal responsibility for others, I found others constantly knocking on the door, sometimes with a lot of coercion, to drop what I was doing and become more involved with the very immediate needs of others (beyond just joining “other people’s causes), even though I had never procreated my own family.  It all came full circle.







Monday, January 05, 2015

"Giving": we're going in different directions on this, with some Heisenberg uncertainty


Sunday, at a potluck after the service at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, we had a nice little conversation about increasing individualism and accompanying insularity.  On a personal level, people often don’t have a lot of compassion.  But the increasing culture of “self-reliance” online is making it harder for a lot of people to making a living the way they used to, and adding to social tensions.  At the same time, the Internet and social media have drawn people together for specific causes, sometimes with a lot of emotion and coercion.  Look at how the “Ice Bucket Challenge” worked.
  
There is a lot of pressure on most young people to become “socialized”, but many families and religious cultures teach kids and teens to “look after their own” (such as younger siblings and parents) before others outside the family and community.  Globalization changes all of this and presents people with moral paradoxes. 
  
I can flash backward to 1974, at a Sunday night talk group at the Ninth Street Center, when I brought up the subject of “giving” as if it were something separate from what I really experience.
Early Sunday, I thought I saw a Vox media tweet and story on the idea that people really shouldn’t do their charitable donations alone, but in some kind of social context.  The story seems to have disappeared.  I can’t find it now. 
  

Vox has some other articles about charitable giving and how it makes a difference.  There is one on Dec. 22, about how to make the “choice”, by Dylan Matthews, here. There is a lot of discussion of overseas and developing world needs, and an argument that simple cash is often the most effective.  He mentions GiveWell  (link )  and GiveDirectly (link ) which sends money to the extreme poor. 
   
 This is a bit eye opening. I manage mine through a bank, and do it from a regularly set-up script with specific accounts at specific charities and causes, some of them legacy from my mother.  Many of the appeals and telemarketing calls would duplicate what I am already doing with someone else. Vox CEPR panel has an article “Excusing selfishness in charitable giving: the role of risk”, link here.
    
Vox (the main site again) has a stinging article from Nov. 3 by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, “Giving money away makes us happy.  Then why do so few of us do it?”, link here.  The article has a sting.  It links hyperindividualism to “ungenerosity” and says that a lot of people “imagine other people as restrictions on their autonomy.”  True, but this has more to do with giving time and personal attention than just money. 
  
As we noted, a younger generation looks at the idea “it’s none of your business” differently than mine does.  There is more interest in communitarianism and some more openness to intimacy (as in the Belize film clips I’ve mentioned before).  I dislike the bureaucracy that has come to be connected to charity and to volunteer supervision – but yet I can see that it’s existence, and the idea that people can be pressured to participate, gives the less “lucky” some home and reason to believe in the system – so that promotes stability and sustainability, but possibly with a brake on some individual initiative.  Even more critical is the idea that someone can still find love after a downturn.  
  

There’s another topic lurking behind this:  how an individual, especially one who is “different”, should behave when he or she knows that the “purposes” of the “society” above, demanding loyalty, are at least morally questionable.  I could develop that topic with my own actions with regard to the draft during the Vietnam war (and it is nuanced).  Furthermore, how does one behave when living in an authoritarian state?  Like it or not, societies develop “ideologies” regarding the “common good” and “future” of its “people” (whether ethnic, national, or religious) and politicians and religious leaders love to exploit this for their own power, while pretending to own the topic of morality. 


Sunday, January 04, 2015

YouTube videos can be public, private, or in a nether-world that is really still public


I’ve noticed occasionally that YouTube videos that I have embedded go “private” and no longer display, and occasionally come up as “this video does not exist”.  It is true, sometimes an embedded video disappears because the YouTube account was closed for multiple copyright complaints (DMCA) or a video was taken down due to a particular complaint.  So far, that has not resulted in repercussions for the blog that embeds it, other than it no longer shows or works (the space looks black or gray).
  
It’s also possible for a user to not list a YouTube video, so it doesn’t show up in search engines or on YouTube’s own search.  The user can still embed the video in his or her own site, and would have to disable embedding to stop anyone else from doing it.  However, when the video is embedded on the original owner’s site, you can still watch it on youtube.  You can save the URL.  If you enter the URL directly, the video plays automatically and the viewed count increases by 1, because there is no way just to see the thumbnail (as with a normally listed video).  However, if a visitor plays the URL more than once from YouTube, then YouTube will put up a yellow caution icon telling he visitor “please be considerate about sharing – this video is unlisted”.  However, in this case, YouTube is depending on the good will of the visitor.  The system would not prevent him from linking to it in Facebook, Twitter, or another blog or site.  However, such a link could cast the content completely out of context (like the case with my screenplay "The Sub").
     
ITArsenal has an explanation of this concept here.  I was not aware that this possibility would work this way until I stumbled onto it with a friend’s material today.  I won’t give the link now.  But there was material that was interesting in that it paralleled some things that happened in my own middle and high school days;  we’ll get to that later.
  
As for my own videos on development, I’ve put them up as public.  In the middle of this month, I expect to upgrade my ability to edit videos (with a new Mac and a new operating system, and new version of FinalCut  Pro, which appears to make some editing I need much quicker to do.).
  
One of these, typical, from early November, shot on Skyline Drive VA, seems preparatory and preliminary, but I don’t see any real harm in letting it be public, even if incomplete. It is a work in progress. 
  
  

The work continues.  


Update: Jan. 5

Another little point: the other day, somebody "tagged" me on Facebook and 28 other friends with an NFL clothing ad.  I doubt it is harmful, although I don't like seeing other people's commercials passed on to my friends as if they were mine.  It make be a way to get quick ad revenue (perhaps unethically, or against TOS).  I have no problem with the NFL -- I had tweeted a lot recently that the Redskins ought to change their name to something like Warriors and get the name controversy behind them so the players can concentrate and have a better 2015 season.  

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Many on both the Left and Right allow the "heckler's veto" to become the speaker's moral burden


Barry A. Fisher offers a particularly disturbing op-ed on p. A11 of the Tuesday, December 30, 2014 edition of “The Wall Street Journal”, “Free Speech’s Shrinking Circle of Friends” with the byline “Liberals, and even some conservatives embrace the ‘heckler’s veto’ threat to the First Amendment”, link here
  
The obvious reference, of course, is the Sony hack, and the attempt of hackers (who may or may not have been the North Korean government as of this writing) to extort Sony into destroying the film; Sony thankfully eventually stood up to the threat.  More recent analysis by some suggests that this is a convoluted prank, but the idea that a government might not tolerate fiction that seems like a veiled threat makes sense.  As I noted (Dec. 19, 2014) I have some experience with this scenario with my own “fictive” screenplay. The "Elonis" case before the Supreme Court (Dec. 1) bears some similarity. Fisher also notes that the 1982 MGM film “Inchon” (about MacArthur’s invasion at the start of the Korean War) by Terence Young disappeared because of the Unification Church (but I believe that I actually saw it when living in Dallas).  There is still no DVD or Netflix rental; and it's not clear that Steve Carell's 2015 film on North Korea will ever get going again (link).  
    
 Fisher starts by discussing the Supreme Court’s 1949 reversal of a conviction in the Terminiello v. Chicago case (opinion) which struck down a Chicago ordinance which banned speech likely to provoke public unrest.  However, as Fisher notes, sometimes courts still seem willing to hold speakers accountable for the violence of others that their speech might provoke out of mere indignation, as in the case where a high school in California banned distribution of “Cinco de Mayo” T-shirts, or when a Christian group was ejected from an Arab festival in Dearborn, MI.
  
Fisher notes that the broadly construed idea of “hate speech” may be outside the purvey of First Amendment protection.  Private interests nearly always use this criteria;  self-publishing companies like XLibris consider “hate speech” one of the categories that would cause a book to fail “content evaluation”. 
  
Fisher also notes that the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (link  ) pretends to protect free speech, but directs its member parties (including the U.S.) to clamp down on “any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination”

In my own life, I’ve sometimes experienced the retort that my own speech could bring harm to others (like parents) and I find this particularly offensive.  Yet, many people think it is particularly normal in society to ask someone “like me” to “keep a low profile” for the supposed safety of others. The "moral" retort seems to be that people with "real lives" take responsibility for others in a way that constrains them, when I don't, so I'll have some "responsibility" assigned to me anyway.