Controversies over electronics on plane still continue and need a real solution

 

A recent incident at the Orlando airport underscores the nervousness these days of the security implications of personal electronics.

Apparently a camera containing a lithium battery exploded, causing tremendous confusion and disruption as explain in this Orlando television station report.

This was not a laptop, tablet or smartphone.  But there have been issues in the past with specific items, including some Samsung smart phones and some hoverboards.  In some devices it seems even a battery not plugged in has caught fire.

Laptops have not have many incidents; however some time this year high school students watched a 2006 laptop blow up in their California home.

Contrast this with the controversy last spring with the temporary bans of in-cabin electronics from airports in various countries, on the theory that terrorists could devise plastic explosives that could be hidden from security, as this story by Jack Stewart in Wired had explained.

According to the LA Times, the TSA implemented a new rule requiring screening of all laptops and similar electronics.  It’s not clear if this applies to Known Travelers, who presumably are trustworthy users of consumer electronics in the normal and lawful manner.  A July 2017 memo from the TSA suggests that TSAPrev travelers are exempt (also see this).

But as I noted in May, the TSA (and similar security in all other countries) has to face a basic policy reality.  There are some incidents of very low probability that are impossible to prevent with absolute certainty. It’s almost a quantum thing.  Laptops on flights were not controversial until this year. I’ve flown with them for twenty years.  But more modern lithium batteries have at least a theoretical risk due to the fact that lithium is fairly reactive.  Remember the high school chemistry experiment of putting sodium into water?  (There has been at least one injury in the past few years from that demonstration.)

As I wrote in May, we need to solve the problem of the best approach to electronics and travel.  Could non-lithium batteries be used again and improved?   Could a safer ground rental system be developed, if some day it was no longer practical for people to take their own electronics?  (You don’t have to take your data if it’s in the Cloud, hopefully.)  There would seem room in the blogosphere for advice on how to travel with gear and make sure it works when you get there — along the lines of “Blogtyrant’s” ideas on how to help readers with content (to the point that readers actually welcome emails).

We need to keep an eye on this problem.

(Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at 12 Noon EST)

Update: Nov 15

Here is TSA’s own blog post on passenger options if an item is not allowed on a plane or in checked luggage.

Here is the FAA’s current policy on batteries in equipment brought into planes, pdf.  Here is an explanation of watt-hours for a battery.  The FAA sheet would imply passengers should know the watt-hours of their batteries that aren’t always published but are printed on the batteries themselves (since 2011).  They should normally be less than 100.

(Video on battery access)

A quick visit to a near Best Buy and discussion with a  tech verified that Apple typically makes battery info details available to consumers as an app, but most PC-style laptops based on Windows or other ops do not. A policy solution to the safety problem discussed here could include making the info available to the user on a firmware app.  Many modern laptops (like the ASUS) require considerable effort and practice (and Philips screwdrivers) to open properly to see and exchange the batteries.

Update: Nov. 16

It still seems that checkpoint-friendly bags (USA Today story) for laptops are recommended, and they must not have extra compartments or buckles.  Yet, relatively few of them at a local Best Buy store were compliant.  Retailers don’t seem to have a lot of knowledge about this.

Airports seem to be encouraging electronics, with modern docking stations in secure areas, and restaurants (in secure areas also) with order menus on iPads.

The shame of speaking only through a heckling mob, if limited to that

Recently the New York Times ran a constructive op-ed by Michelle Goldberg “The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech”, featuring a split demonstration poster demanding to “Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos”.

The editorial makes a central point that democratic societies typically feel they need to take certain topics off the table as legitimate content for discussion. For example, the essay gives, the idea that women and people of color should be subordinate to white men (you can expand that to cis white straight men).  The editorial relates an incident at William and Mary recently where an ACLU speaker was heckled and disrupted for supposedly working for white supremacists, which activists demand there be zero tolerance for.

There are plenty of similar examples, such as bans on neo-Nazi speech in present day Germany.  The most obvious bans are usually intended to protect groups defined by race or religion (and sometimes ethnic nationality) from being targeted again by future political developments.

By way of comparison, many people believed, back in the 1950s, that there was a legal ban on discussing communism.  The federal government, for example, who not employ people who could not ascertain they had never been members of the Communist party. Communism could be banned if it was construed as embedding violence (or the attempt to overthrow the US government) as part of its definition (as compared to socialism, even Bernie Sanders style).  But Communism generally, as defined, did not target specific races or religions (although we can certain argue that Stalin persecuted people of faith, including Jews, and so did Communist China).

You could have a similar discussion about trying to overanalyze the roots of homophobia and gender or sexuality related discrimination and persecution in the past, and today in many authoritarian countries. Much of my own writing has dealt with this for the past twenty years, especially the three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books.  I’ve generally (as in my post here Jan. 4, 2017) offered arguments that a lot of it had to do with family patriarchs keeping their own confidence in their own power to have biological lineage (procreation).  I’ve also paid heed to the past public health arguments that got made in the 1980s in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before the cause was identified.  In my writings I’ve paid particular heed to the history of military conscription and past deferment controversies.

A lot of people don’t appreciate my rehearsing the ghosts of the past (John Carpenter’s metaphorical “The Ghosts of Mars” (1995)), for fear that I could be legitimizing lines of thinking long thought debunked and bringing them back.  Sound familiar?  Is this what people fear from Donald Trump, or, more properly, the people he has chosen in his group?  (How about Mike Pence?)

Goldberg doesn’t go there, but the Left is in a real quandary when it wants to shut down all biological speech   The Left has demonstrated against and protested Charles Murray for his past writings on race and biology.  They object to James Damore for his Google memo on biology (whether this expression belonged in a privately owned workplace is a different discussion). They would probably object to Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book “A Troublesome Inheritance” (media commentary, July 24, 2017). But then what about the gay Left’s dependence on immutability to demand gay equality?  I do think there is scientific merit to discussion of genetics (especially with regard to gender identity) and epigenetics (especially with regard to sexual orientation, most of all in non-first-born men)   I don’t think that replaces libertarian ideas of focus on “personal responsibility”.  But if you want to discuss homosexuality and biology (as in Chandler Burr’s monumental 1996 book “A Separate Creation”) with possible political change as a result, you have to accept discussions of biology, evolution and race.  Admittedly, some people can skid on thin ice when they ponder these things, as they consider plans to have or not have their own children (eugenics used to be an acceptable idea a century ago).

That brings me back to a correlated area: that the identity of the speaker matters, as well as the predictable behavior of the listener of speech (possibly creating risk for the original speaker or others connected to him) — what I have called “implicit content”, a most disturbing and sometimes offensive notion.  The most obvious example in current events news is, of course, the manipulation of social media especially by the Russians to sow discord among different American classes or quasi-tribes, beyond simply influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  The Russians and other enemies used fake accounts and posted fake news in supposedly legitimate-looking news sites and in advertorials.  All of this follows earlier concerns about the misuse of social media, especially Twitter, for terrorist recruiting (by ISIS), as well as cyberbullying or stalking and revenge porn.  The Russians seemed to have noticed that Hillary-like “elites” would not pay attention if “deplorables” could be lured by silly, divisive supermarket tabloid-like content and false flags; elites tend not to care about people “beneath” themselves in this “mind your own business” world much until those people suddenly knock at the door for personal attention (which is something that happens to speakers who make themselves conspicuous, especially on social media).

You can raise a lot of questions here. Is fake news libel?  Maybe.  Litigation is often impractical because it involves criticism of public figures (actual malice, etc). You get to Trump’s ideas about using Britain’s standard on libel.  But a bigger idea is that the fake news fiasco shows why authoritarian leaders keep a tight lid on dissent, even on individual bloggers’ speech, perhaps maintaining that the dissemination of news to the public need be “licensed” to guarantee (alternative) “truth” (sic).  That hasn’t really happened with Trump, yet at least; Trump seems to admire individual speakers even as he hates the established liberal media.

A related idea is whether political ads, and whether commercial ads, are protected by the First Amendment the same way as other speech.  That topic was covered in the second session at a recent Cato conference (Oct. 3, 2017 posting here). Generally, the answer is yes. But this topic has become controversial with regard to campaign finance reform, long before Trump.

In fact, back in the 2002-2005 period, there was a concern that even “free content” of a political nature posted by bloggers like me could constitute illegal campaign contributions (as if not everything in life can be measured by money). The June 12, 2017 post here gets to that, as does this 2005 editorial in the Washington Times, which wormed its way into a major incident when I was working as a substitute teacher then.

That brings us to what I do, which is put out my own series of article and blog posts on the news, augmenting my three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, under my own brand(s). No, this doesn’t pay its own way.  I have exactly the situation the 2005 Washington Times editorial was talking about.

I’ve been at this since the mid 1990s.  I originally entered the world of self-publishing as a way to participate in the debate over gays in the military (and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy from Bill Clinton’s compromise that predates Trump’s current transgender ban controversy).   I made a lot of unusual, very individualistic arguments, often but not always consistently connected to libertarianism.  Generally, most of what I have said starts with the individual, apart from any group he or she belongs to. The first book sold decently (in 1997 and 1998, especially) but then became old hat.  The subsequent POD books have not really sold all that well, and I get hassled about it because “other people” can’t keep their jobs based on my books, I guess.  I did have the resources from a well-paid job and from stock market good luck under Clinton (Democrats can be good for the stock market, as Hillary’s elite knows). I got lucky with the 2008 crash and that turned out well for me.  (Short selling?)

But you see where this is heading.  In line with the thinking of McCain-Feingold, one person can have political influence, with no accountability for how the funds were raised.  I actually focused on issues, not candidates (which a lot of people seem not to get), and have very little interest in partisanship.  I could even claim that I know enough about policy and am temperate enough in my positions that I could function in the White House better than the current occupant, but I don’t know how to raise money for people, or for myself.  I but I know the right people to get health care to work, for example.  (Do the math first.)

Then, there is the issue of the left-wing boogeyman, “inherited wealth”.  Yes, I have some (from mother’s passing at the end of 2010).  My use of it could be controversial, and I may not have been as generous (yet) as I should be.  But I have not needed it to fund the books or blogs or websites. (I I had, that could be a problem, but that’s too much accounting detail to get into right here.  But I can’t just turn into somebody else’s safety net.)

I do get prodded about other things I “should” be doing, as a “prole”, because others have to do them.  Let’s say, accept “the free market cultural revolution” and prove I can hold down a minimum wage job (like in Barbara Enrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed”).  My life has its own narrative, and that narrative explains my personal goals now.  They’re my goals;  they don’t need to be anyone else’s.  I don’t need to appear on Shark Tank to justify my own “business model”.  But I’m corkscrewing into a paradox: if morality is indeed about “paying your dues” before you’re heard, then it’s really not just about group solidarity.

Both sides of a polarized political debate, but especially the Left, would like to see a world where individuals are not allowed to leverage their own speech with search engines the way I have (with an “It’s Free” paradigm, after Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film, where blog postings become “free fish”), but have to march in step with larger groups that they join.  Both sides want to force others to join their chorus of some mix of relative deprivation (the alt-right), or systematic oppression (the Left).  Both (or two out of three) sides want mass movements (as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”). Religious groups often follow suit, demanding people join them in proselytizing (which is what an LDS mandatory missionary assignment is all about).  It is certainly personally shameful to walk in a (Charlottesville) torchlight march screaming “You shall not replace us”, but I find carrying anyone’s picket rather shameful.  Other’s will tell me, get over it.  Well, you get over it only if you’re on the  “right” (sic) side?  I won’t bargain away my own purposes.

To me, the existential threat is being forced or coerced (maybe even with expropriation) to join somebody else’s chorus, or hiding from personal responsibility behind a curtain of “systematic oppression”, to be allowed to speak at all. Some pleas for donation to political opinion sites (from both the Right and Left) make insulting, hysterical clams that only they can speak for me, as if I were impotent and had no right to my own branded voice.  They want to force me to join their causes to be heard at all.  It would be more honorable to become a slave on a plantation, or at least a minimum wage worker, whose turn it is now to be exploited just as he was once the undeserving exploiter, until dropping dead.  And then there is no funeral.

But, you ask, why not “raise people up” in a personal way, when they knock, in a way “you” had not considered before you were so challenged.  Is it up to me to make others “all right” in a personal way if others once did that for me?  Maybe. But that’s entirely off line. It doesn’t seem like “accomplishment” (maybe it’s a “creative” challenge for someone who did not have his own kids).  It doesn’t replace my mission of delivering my own content first.

(Posted: Monday, October 9, 2017, at 2:30 PM EDT)

Cato Institute covers many First Amendment topics in day long forum; what about downstream liability concerns?

Last Thursday, September 28, 2017, I attended a day-long event at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, “The Future of the First Amendment”.  I could call it aka “the future of free speech” in the U.S.

Cato has a link for the event and has now uploaded all the presentations, which you can view here. The videos include embeds of the slides and of the audience members asking questions as professionally filmed, better than I can do on my own at an event.

The “table of contents” in the link shows the topics covered as well as identifying the credentialing the many invited speakers, and indeed the presentation was segmented and topical and tended to focus on many narrow, separate issues.  I’ll come back at the end of this piece as to what I would like to have seen covered more explicitly.

The earliest morning session focuses particularly on partisan political speech related to elections (the “Citizen’s United” problem) and on commercial speech, including whether companies or commercial entities are separate persons.  One concept that stuck out was that listeners or receivers of messages are entitled to First Amendment protections. I would wonder how that concept would play out given more recent reports of Russian attempts not only to influence the 2016 elections but also to spur social instability and resentment in American society, based particularly on the idea of relative collective deprivation (which is not the same idea as “systematic oppression”).  There are understandable concerns over wanting to regulate paid political ads (especially if supplied by foreign agents), but we should remember back around 2005 when there were concerns based on a particular court interpretation of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act that even free blogs (written without compensation and without ads) could be construed as “political contribution” if they expressed political viewpoints.  The discussion of commercial speech recognizes that advertisements sometimes do express points of view going beyond immediate ad content, and that valuable speech, such as well-made studio Hollywood movies about major historical events, made with good faith, can express political viewpoints while being funded through the open securities markets available to publicly traded companies.  But one auxiliary idea not explicitly mentioned was something I encounter: that speech available to the public should pay its own way.

The second segment dealt with “religious liberty in the post-Obama era”.  Here we have the dubious idea that an employee of a business open to the public is engaging in religiously-connected “speech” when she sells certain products or services to a person of a different faith or who engages in certain intimate personal relationships as now recognized by law (especially same-sex marriage).  One speaker in particular (Robin Fretwell Wilson) suggested that states should carve out laws that require public accommodations to serve all customers but allow individual employees (even in government agencies, such as with Kim Davis in Kentucky) to turn over the duties to someone else.  While I would support such a solution, if can mean an unequal workplace (such as the catse when some employees observe Sabbath’s explicitly and others cover them without getting any compensation in return, which I have done – an extreme extension of this idea is the “conscientious objector” problem with the past military draft).  It’s also true that sometimes “religious speech” can serve as a mask for personal moral ideas that in fact are not really founded in recognized interpretations of scripture, for example, political aversion to working with inherited wealth.

The keynote speaker for the second floor luncheon(well catered with deli sandwiches) was Eugene Volokh, of UCLA Law School and the Volokh conspiracy blog.  Volokh gave a spirited presentation on how the Internet has accelerated the application of libel law (well before Donald Trump noticed) because the Internet allows speakers with no deep pockets and little formal publishing law experience to be heard, and also because the “online reputation” damage from defamation, as propagated by search engines, is permanent, as opposed to newspaper defamation in the past.  Volokh made the interesting point that sometimes cases are settled with court injunctions that could prohibit a blogger from mentioning a particular person online again anywhere.  (That could matter to bloggers who review films or music performances, for example). At 41:07 on this tape, I ask a question about Backpage and Section 230. Volokh’s answer was thorough and more reassuring that it might have been, as he indicated that “knowingly” standard could be included in service provider downstream liability exposures. (He also explained the distinctions among utility transmission, distribution, and publication.) He also got into the question as to whether fake news could be libel.  Usually, because it largely involves politicians, in the U.S. it does not. But it might when applied to celebrities and companies.

The afternoon session featured a presentation by Emily Ekins on the 2017 Free Speech National Survey. A number of startling conclusions were presented, showing partisan divides on what is viewed as hate speech, and also a lack of understanding that most hate speech is constitutionally protected. There is a tendency among many voters and especially many college students to view words as weapons, and to view speakers as morally accountable for the actions of the recipients of their speech, even when there is no direct incitement for rioting or lawless action. Many respondents showed a shocking dislike of journalists as “watchers” who don’t have their own skin in the game.  A majority seemed to take the pseudo-populist position that a heckler’s veto on speakers was morally OK, and a shocking substantial minority thought that government should heavily sponsor speech to protect special groups.  A shocking minority accepted the idea that hate speech should sometimes be met with political violence.

The final session talked about censorship and surveillance.  The speakers included Flemming Rose (“The Tyranny of Silence” and the cartoon controversy).  Rose mentioned, in an answer to an audience question, that in some countries speakers were arrested for “qualification of terrorism” in public statements.  All the speakers noted a desire from the EU to force tech companies to export their rules to the US, especially the supposed “right to be forgotten”.  Daniel Keats Citron from the University of Maryland Law School mentioned the Section 230 controversy in an answer, as she talked about  distinguishing “good Samaritans” from “bad Samaritans”

At the reception afterward, a speaker from Cloudflare noted that Hollywood has been lobbying heavily on Congress to force service providers to prescreen content, as motivated by the Backpage controversy. Hollywood, he said, has been pressuring agents and Wilshire Blvd law firms to join in the effort. He mentioned the DMCA Safe Harbor, which has a similar downstream liability concept but applies to copyright, not to libel or privacy.  The tone of his remarks suggested that this goes way beyond piracy;  Hollywood does not like dealing with the low cost competition of very independent film that is much less capital intensive, and taking up much larger audience share than in the past..  Even Mark Cuban admitted that to me once in an email.  Cloudflare also said that the law, unchanged, would today handle sex trafficking the way it handles child pornography, with a “knowingly” standard, which seems adequate already.

All of this brings me back to what might not have been hit hard enough in the conference, the idea, as I said indicated in the title of my third book, of “a privilege of being listened to” (my 2005 essay), which sounds a little scary to consider and seems to lie beneath authoritarian control of speech.

I insist on managing my own speech, much of which is posted as “free content”.  I get pestered that I don’t sell more physical copies of my books than I do and don’t try to be “popular” or manipulative in order to sell. (That helps other people have jobs,  I guess.)   I get told that my own skin should be in the game.  I get sent into further deployments of the subjunctive mood (“could’a, should’a, would’a”), like in high school French class. – I should have children, or special needs dependents, or be in the trenches myself before I get heard from.  (This could affect how I handle the estate that I inherited, which can get to be a Milo-Dangerous topic.)   Content should pay its own way (which, ironically, might encourage porn.)  Individual speakers weaken advocacy groups by competing with them and not participating.  Before I get heard from myself, I should join somebody else’s cause against “systematic oppression” and not be above walking and shouting in their demonstrations. I should run fundraisers for other people on my webpage. I should support other publications’ fund raisers who claim (on both the right and left) to be my voice, as if I were incompetent to speak for myself.  Or, as if that capacity will be taken away from me by force.  Even the world of writers. I get confrontational ideas, that “real writers” get hired to portray other people’s narratives other than their own. (Okay, I might really have had a chance once go “ghost-write” so-to-speak one of the other “don’t ask don’t tell” soldier’s stories.)

One of the most serious underreported controversies is indeed the idea that speakers should be held responsible for what their readers might do, particularly because “you” are the speaker and not someone else.  This is related to the notion of “implicit content” (Sept. 10). This concept was behind my own experience in October 2005 when working as a substitute teacher, see July 19, 2016 pingback hyperlink).  That certainly comports with the idea that Section 230 should not exist, and that people should not speak out on their own until they have a lot of accountability to a peer group (family or not).  This is far from what the First Amendment says but seems to be what a lot of people have been brought up to believe in their own home and community environments. It goes along with ideas of personal right-sizing, fitting in to the group, and a certain truce on social justice.  In the past two or three decades (compared to when I was in high school and college), there has been a weakened presentation of the First Amendment (and Bill of Rights in general) in the way it is taught in high schools and to undergraduates.  I could even say based on my own substitute teaching experience from 2004-2007 that even public school staff (including administration) is poorly informed on the actual law today, so you would not expect students to be getting the proper learning on these matters.

Individuals have natural rights, just as individuals;  but people don’t have to belong to oppressed groups or claim “relative deprivation” to claim their natural rights.

(Posted: Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 12 noon)

“Implicit content” may become the next big Internet law controversy; more on Backpage and Section 230

It is important to pause for a moment and take stock of another possible idea that can threaten freedom of speech and self-publication on the Internet without gatekeepers as we know it now, and that would be “implicit content”.

This concept refers to a situation where an online speaker publishes content that he can reasonably anticipate that some other party whom the speaker knows to be combative, un-intact, or immature (especially a legal minor) will in turn act harmfully toward others, possibly toward specific targets, or toward the self. The concept views the identity of the speaker and presumed motive for the speech as part of the content, almost as if borrowed from object-oriented programming.

The most common example that would be relatively well known so far occurs when one person deliberately encourages others using social media (especially Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to target and harass some particular user of that platform.  Twitter especially has sometimes suspended or permanently  closed accounts for this behavior, and specifically spells this out as a TOS violation. Another variation might come from a recent example where a female encouraged a depressed boyfriend to commit suicide using her smartphone with texts and was convicted of manslaughter, so this can be criminal.  The concept complicates the normal interpretation of free speech limitation as stopping where there is direct incitement of unlawful activity (like rioting).

I would be concerned however that even some speech that is normally seen as policy debate could fall under this category when conducted by “amateurs” because of the asymmetry of the Internet with the way search engines can magnify anyone’s content and make it viral or famous.  This can happen with certain content that offends others of certain groups, especially religious (radical Islam), racial, or sometimes ideological (as possibly with extreme forms of Communism).  In extreme cases, this sort of situation could cause a major (asymmetric) national security risk.

A variation of this problem occurred with me when I worked as a substitute teacher in 2005 (see pingback hyperlink here on July 19, 2016).  There are a couple of important features of this problem.  One is that it is really more likely to occur with conventional websites with ample text content and indexed by search engines in a normal way (even allowing for all the algorithms) than with social media accounts, whose internal content is usually not indexed much and which can be partially hidden by privacy settings or “whitelisting”.  That would have been true pre-social media with, for example, discussion forums (like those on AOL in the late 1990s). Another feature is that it may be more likely with a site that is viewed free, without login or subscription. One problem is that such content might be viewed as legally problematic if it wasn’t paid for (ironically) but had been posted only for “provocateur” purposes, invoking possible “mens rea”.

I could suggest another example, of what might seem to others as “gratuitous publication”.  I have often posted video and photos of demonstrations, from BLM marches to Trump protests, as “news”.  Suppose I posted a segment from an “alt-right” march, from a specific group that I won’t name.  Such a march may happen in Washington DC next weekend (following up Charlottesville).  I could say that it is simply citizen journalism, reporting what I see.  Others would say I’m giving specific hate groups a platform, which is where TOS problems could arise. Of course I could show counterdemonstrations from the other “side”. I don’t recognize the idea that, among any groups that use coercion or force, that one is somehow more acceptable to present than another (Trump’s problem, again.)  But you can see the slippery slope.

When harm comes to others after “provocative” content is posted, the hosting sites or services would normally be protected by Section 230 in the US (I presume).  However, it sounds like there have been some cases where litigation has been attempted.  Furthermore, we know that very recently, large Internet service platforms have cut off at least one (maybe more) website associated with extreme hate speech or neo-Nazism. Service platforms, despite their understandable insistence that they need the downstream liability protections of Section 230, have become more pro-active in trying to eliminate users publishing what they consider (often illegal) objectionable material.  This includes, of course, child pornography and probably sex trafficking, and terrorist group recruiting, but it also could include causing other parties to be harassed, and could gradually expand to subsumed novel national security threats. But it now seems to include “hate speech”, which I personally think ought to be construed as “combativeness” or lawlessness.  But that brings us to another point:  some extreme groups would consider amateur policy discussions that take a neutral tone and try to avoid taking sides (that is, avoiding naming some groups as enemies instead of others, as with Trump’s problems after Charlottesville), as implicitly “hateful” by default when the speaker doesn’t put his own skin in the game.   This (as Cloudflare’s CEO pointed out) could put Internet companies in a serious ethical bind.

Timothy B. Lee recently published in Ars-Technica, an update on the “Backpage” bills in Congress, which would weaken Section 230 protections. Lee does seem to imply that the providers most at risk remain isolated to those whose main content is advertisements, rather than discussions; and so far he hasn’t addressed with shared hosting providers could be put at risk.  (I asked him that on Twitter.)  But some observer believe that the bills could lead states to require that sites with user-logon provide adult-id verification.  We all know that this was litigated before with the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was ruled unconstitutional finally in early 2007.  I was a party to that litigation under Electronic Frontier Foundation sponsorship. Ironically, the judge mentioned “implicit content” the day that I sat in on the arguments (in Philadelphia).

I wanted to add a comment here that probably could belong on either of my two previous posts.  That is, yes, our whole civilization has become very dependent on technology, and, yes, a determined enemy could give us a very rude shock.  Born in 1943, I have lived through years that have generally been stable, surviving the two most serious crises (the Vietnam military draft in the 1960s and then HIV in the 1980s) that came from the outside world.  A sudden shock like that in NBC’s “Revolution” is possible.  But I could imagine being born around 1765, living as a white landowner in the South, having experienced the American Revolution and then the Constitution as a teen, and only gradually coming to grips with the idea that my world would be expropriated from me because an underlying common moral evil, before I died (if I was genetically lucky enough to live to 100 without modern medicine). Yet I would have had no grasp of the idea of a technological future, that itself could be put it risk because, for all its benefits in raising living standards, still seemed to leave a lot of people behind.

(Posted: Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

Bloggers, press credentials, and “legitimacy”

Last week I went to a small demonstration about the lapsing of network neutrality on the Capitol grounds.  After all the speeches, Sen. Markin (D-MA) asked if there were questions, from the press (non-restrictive, I thought). But when I didn’t have a media company employing me (I said I was “independent”) I was “silenced”. Here is my legacy blog account of the incident.

Then, yesterday “it” happened again.  I got an email from a PR company about an opportunity to interview a particular transgender activist, who was going to speak in Washington at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.  I asked if I could just go to the meeting.  Apparently, only if I worked for a media company.  I got the impression the PR person wouldn’t have offered the interview had he realized I work solo.

In fact, I get a lot of emails asking if I would interview someone.  Some, but probably a minority, of them mention the possibility of articles on one of my legacy Blogger sites (like “Bill of GLBT Issues”) which obviously don’t come from a “professional news organization.” Most of these invitations are with persons with very narrowly focused niche issues (sometimes embedded in identity politics), or sometimes very specific products or services to sell (of the “self-help” variety), not of broadband interest, so I usually don’t try to follow up.  But what if I got an invitation to talk to someone involved in an issue I view as critical and underreported by the mainstream press, like power grid security?

One of the best links on this issue seems to come from NPPA, “The Voice of Visual Journalists”, which poses the blunt question “How do I obtain press credentials if I do not work for a newspaper or magazine or I am a freelancer?”

There is a US Press Association which appears to offer cards for a membership fee, and I’m not sure how well recognized it is by the industry.

Some videos suggest that “YouTubers” and Bloggers can get press passes for trade shows (like CES) if they are persistent enough.

But many other sources on the Web (for example, WikiHow) suggest that you need to work for someone, and get paid for what you do, at least with a contractual agreement if not an actual employee.   It would be a good question if you can work for your own company in this sense.  Maybe you would have to register your business with the state you live or work in, or show that it pays its own way with normal accounting.

Of course, it’s obvious that many events have to keep the audience small and limited because of space and security reasons (White House briefings).

On the other hand, many events (such as QA’s for newly released motion pictures at film festivals) are open to the public (buying tickets) and take questions from anyone.  Most of the video I present on my parallel “media reviews” blog (older than this one) come from this setup.

There’s a potential dark cloud down the road regarding the issue of press credentials or legitimacy (v. amateurism).  Imagine a world a few years from now where all network neutrality has been eliminated, and only the websites of “credentialed” organizations can be connected to ISP’s   Sounds like Russia or China, maybe.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has expressed a dislike of mainstream “liberal” media companies (CNN, most of the television broadcast networks, most of the big city newspapers), but respects only outlets like Fox, OANN, and maybe even Breitbart, maybe even Milo.  Maybe he actually respects me.

For the record, let me say that I am interested in working with news outlets on some critical issues.  I can’t give more details right now.

(Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 11 AM)

As “Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” approaches, the doomsday debate heats up

Just as “The Event” approaches July 12, I got into more debate over network neutrality expiration in the U.S. on Facebook yesterday, and here is a summary of the latest in my own following of the topic.

If you want to make a comment to the FCC (before July 17), go to the “browse-popular-proceedings” link, where you can search and look for comments people have already made. The proper from to submit an “express comment” seems to be this one.

The FCC has already been bombarded by spam comments, some of them hateful or even racist toward the FCC chairman, according to this story on the Verge (Vox Media).

The Internet and Television Association makes this comment, reaffirming its commitment to an “open Internet”, which it followed up with paid print newspaper ads.  The New York Times had thrown cold water on Pai’s promised of “voluntary compliance” with no-throttle ethics in this editorial late in April.

But back in April, Rand Fishkin, on a Marketing Industry WhiteBoard, wrote a particularly telling predictive analysis of what could happen over time. The comments (closed now) add a lot to the debate and are well worth reading.

The most likely adverse scenario (which would probably take two or three years to develop) sounds like it comes out of the T-Mobile’s “illegal” plan a few months back to offer a bare-bones service that didn’t offer full Internet. There would seem to be a possibility that the telecom industry could treat websites as cable channels. It sounds like cheap, basic plans could offer families (especially consumers not particularly interested in the Web, or those wanting to shield small children) only a few sites favored by the ISP. More expensive plans could offer everything, as we know it today, with the Cadillac plans offering super high speeds in some areas. A small business owner could have to consider whether to pay for hookup so that lower-income or less wired people could find the business online. It might not be worth it. This could be a serious hindrance for some kinds of small businesses, especially tech innovations. But I’ve seen elements of this debate before, as with COPA a few years ago (as to how to screen objectionable content from minors).

This kind of development might not affect a blogger (with my “do ask do tell” model) like me much, because, frankly, I probably interact mostly with the choir, with people who want to be wired all the time anyway. Not to be offensive, but I doubt very many “blue collar” families in “Trump country” find me anyway.

This sort of a development sounds like a bigger threat to artists and musicians who often sell directly through their own domains (which POD publishers today try to goad authors into doing with volume discounts, bypassing Amazon laziness).

That’s one reasons there are some “collective” sites like Bandcamp (musicians) and Hubspace (writers) which probably offer some supervision and could offer bargaining power in a no-net envurinment. Bandcamp is interesting, as I know a number of composers and performers (especially in the classical music area) in New York, Los Angeles, and overseas. The classical music industry has a commissioning business model for new works, which can create certain ethical tensions. Some artists are starting to rely on Bandcamp more, and even want to train consumers to learn to buy from it, and get used to PayPal, rather than the laziness of the rich-man’s Amazon. Bandcamp was also developed as a way to encourage consumers to pay reasonably for content rather than use illegal downloads or get lazy with Youtube; it tries to balance out the “Its free” problem (previous posting).

Until now, it’s been considered more “professional” for artists and writers to develop their own WordPress sites under their own domain names. “No-net-neutrality” could change this, encouraging collectives and also throwing people back to free platforms like Blogger and free WordPress – but can we count on the business models for these platforms to last forever, given the resistance of the public to (including me) to engage ads (partly out of valid security and privacy concerns)? In the past few years, I’ve generally come to agree with pundits (like Blogger’s Nitecruz) that you shouldn’t depend on someone else’s free service.

I’ve also noted that hosting companies like Blue Host could help assuage the problem with subdomain and add-on structures that they have already set up. I recently had an informal chat with Site Lock on how all this works.

I note the debate over whether bloggers need specific attention to SEO, and whether that would change as net neutrality in the U.S. dissolves. I think it’s particularly important for people who depend on selling to others from a small business and whose website really can bring in sales.  That’s not true of all small businesses, and it’s not true of “provocateur” (yes, Milo!!) blogs like mine.  For these, the content text itself seems to carry in visitors.  “Blogtyrant’s” idea of email subscription mailing lists (in these days when people fight off spam as a security threat) seems to make the most sense to narrow niche businesses with customers who have specific needs that the business owner serves, including with its online activity. Remember the listservers (pre-social media) of the 1990s.

Still, the long range fallout from a “no net neutrality” position in the US could be pressure on small, neighborhood businesses. I think about my favorite gay disco, Town DC, which will close because of pressure big corporate real estate in another year. My favorite Westover Market and Beer Garden in Arlington could face similar pressures eventually, after all it has put into the business. I think of the independent book stores (that used to include Lambda Rising) which my POD publisher pesters me to cater to. I think of independent authors who sell books in higher volumes from their own sites than I do. Some local businesses are truly “local” and may not be affected as much by national web policies as they already depend on foot traffic. But the overall trend from loss of net neutrality could even be more pressure on small businesses to disappear or be bought out by large corporations.

In a recent op-ed, David Brooks noted that conservative philosophy, properly applied, emphasizes local activity, people helping one another, and local ownership of enterprise, and initiative.  That accompanies personal freedom at individualized levels, as Andrew Sullivan argued so well in the 1990s. What worries me is that the Trump administration seems to view conservatism as Putin-style oligarchy, where everyone is “rightsized” into some role of national purpose.

I’m not much into joining collective demonstrations simply against the “rich” or those “better off” than I am, as I am likewise more privileged than some people. I like to target my activity where I can make a real difference in how a policy turns out (I did this pretty well with “gays in the military” some years ago) by encouraging critical thinking. As a general matter, telecom, like any industry (most of all, banking), needs some regulation in the public interest once there are too few companies for genuine competition. (That’s partly what anti-trust is all about.) But you could say an individual like me, who doesn’t have a stake in life with specific dependents, ought to be reined in when my operations don’t pay their own way. Fairness looks both ways. When seeking regulation (just as with health care) be careful what you ask for.

(Posted: Friday, June 30, 2017 at 1:45 PM EDT)

Update: July 12

Report on my visit to a demonstration at the Capitol, here.

Social media companies and economic value: what happens when everybody believes “It’s free, it’s free”, like at the public library

There’s a rather shocking and strident article in the Washington Post today, by Larry Downes. “Google and Facebook contribute zero economic value. And that’s a big problem for trade.”

The article specifically talks in terms of Gross Domestic Product, as economists define it. And online services contribute, well, zero, because all the content they deliver is free.

Well, not exactly.  Advertisers pay these services, especially for clicks or, even better, a little commission (that sometimes goes to writers) when consumers make real world purchases.  And Madison Avenue companies had, I thought, always counted in the GDP, at least in Big Apple speak.

On a bigger view, tech certainly contributes to GDP.  Telecom companies charge consumers more or less the way utility companies do.  It’s not free.  And there are even some glimmers, or rumors, that in a no-net-neutrality environment, big telecom may eventually charge websites (or hosting companies and service companies like Google and Facebook) to be hooked up more efficiently.   That idea may be contributing to the development of intermediary platforms for certain artists and writers, like Bandcamp and Hubspace.  By the way, Google is facing fines for the way it uses its “monopoly” for “promoting” its own stuff in Europe, an idea that parallels the net neutrality problem in the U.S. now.

It’s true, we’ve gotten used to the fact that a lot of good web content is free.  A lot of economists or other moralists think that’s not a good thing.  But we need to view these statements with some degree of balance.  Many newspapers and quality periodicals now have paywalls.  Many platforms charge for legal downloading, although often less than things cost in the physical world (like watching new movies on Amazon), and others have monthly subscriptions to bundle charges (Netflix) resulting in lower costs for consumers over time.

Furthermore, and this is important, some websites offering “free content” do support sales of real products (like books) or services (like insurance) in a tangible way   So in that sense, these kinds of sites pay their own way.  “Blogtyrant” (Ramsy Taplin) has explored his issue recently with postings and lively comments threads (June 12).

I agree, that a pundit like me poses certain “moral” questions.  Most of my content is viewed free, and I don’t actually personally need for my own web activity to be self-supporting, the way things are set up now (and have been so since the mid 1990s).  As I’ve noted before, it is very difficult for me to become somebody else’s mouthpiece, and it is very difficult to enter into a “real” relationship where others with “needs” depend on me and where I find that personally rewarding.   There’s a chicken and egg problem:  maybe you need to have (or at least adopt) kids first, or belong to some identity group and feel partial to that group, first.

It is true that people, especially teens and young adults, need to grow up in the real world.  No, I’m not ready to go off the grid to a cabin in the woods, because, given what I have done, I have to keep things going all the time.  And the idea of a teacher’s “bribing” students to give up screen time one day a week in the summer seems silly to me.

But I do think teens should take advantage of all real-world opportunities first (sports, drama, music, outdoors, travel [not to North Korea]) first.  I know of a teen who directed a church play a few years ago, “Wise Guys”, and as far as I know, it’s never become a film. My challenge to a recent college graduate might be, produce it!   I had my own opportunity with piano lessons and even composition contests n the 1950s through very early 1960s.   The manuscript shown here, handwritten from the 1959-1960 winter snow days, attests to my own grounding in the physical world.  But my activity was personally expressive and self-driven, not social or relational or needs-based.  The logical outcome is that not everyone wins, not everyone gets recognized as a star.  Some people lead, and the rest of us become the “meek little followers”, whether singing in a mixed chorus in high school (oh, those Spring concerts), or working as an activist, and even for people whose needs make them fall far short of examples of libertarian examples of “personal responsibility”.

I wish Reid Ewing would bring back his three short films “It’s Free” from 2012 (with Igigistudios).  They would make a real point now. Maybe to “be free” you have to help people enough that they want to pay for your stuff.

Mozilla has its own podcast page about the future of free stuff,

(Posted: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 5 PM EDT)

How an article on the workplace and automation leads us back to network neutrality and other potential issues for Internet user-generated content

A guest post by 30-year-old Australian blogging (and physical fitness) guru Ramsay Taplin (aka “Blogtyrant“), in “Goins, Writer” about how to deal with the invasion of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace (when these innovations threaten to replace you) rather accidentally re-ignites the debate over the future of the Internet and ordinary speech on it in the United States.  (Before I go further, I’ve love to meet the huge cat on Ramsay’s Twitter page.)

Ramsay’s post seems to be a bit in the tradition of libertarian George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen’s book “Average Is Over,” outlining how middling people need to deal with the changing modern workplace.  At a crucial point in his essay, Ramsay, after suggesting that employed people consider starting small businesses on their own time, recommends most business owners (as well as professionals like lawyers, financial planners, agents, and even book authors) stake out their property in “modern real estate” with a professionally hosted blog site.  But then he dismissively adds the caveat, “unless the Internet changes dramatically through removing net neutrality…”

Later, he writes “make sure everything you do on the Internet helps someone,” a very important base concept that I’ll come back to. He gives a link to a compelling essay on personal and workplace ethics in a site called “Dear Design Student”, about how you can’t lead a double life and be believed forever.  You can see my conversation with him in the comments.

Whoa, there.  OK, Ramsay works (“from his couch”) in Australia, part of the British Commonwealth, and, like most western-style democratic countries, the Aussie World maintains statutory network neutrality regulations on its own turf (I presume).  But, as we know, under the new Trump administration and new FCC chair Ajit Pai, the Obama era’s network neutrality protections, largely set in place (in 2015) by maintaining that self-declared “neutral conduit” telecommunications companies are common carriers, will almost certainly be disbanded late this summer in the U.S. after the formal comment period is over.  Pro-neutrality advocates (including most tech companies) plan a “Day of Action” July 12, which Breitbart characterized in rather hyperbolic farce.

That situation puts American companies at odds with the rest of the capitalist democratic world (definitely not including Russia and China).  There are plenty of political advocacy pressure groups with “Chicken Little” “Sky Is Falling” warnings (along with aggressive popups for donations) about how exposed small companies and individual speakers online may be intentionally silenced (as I had outlined here on May 11).  Right away, I rebut by noting that not only is there to be (according to Pai) “voluntary compliance”, but also every major general-purpose telecom company in the US seems to say it has no intention to throttle ordinary sites.  In fact, most consumers, when they sign up for Internet, want full access to everything out there on the indexed web, so doing so would make no business sense.

Even so, some comparison of the world now to what it was a few decades ago, when I came of age, is in order.  Telephone companies were monopolistic but were regulated, so they couldn’t refuse service to consumers they didn’t like.  None of this changed as ATT break-up into the Bell’s happened (something I watched in the 80s-job market for I.T.)  But until the WWW came along in the mid-90s, the regulations only protected consumers getting content (phone calls), not wanting to upload it with no gatekeepers for pre-approval.  Back then, in a somewhat regulated environment, companies did make technological innovations for big paying customers (like DOD).  Pai would seem to be wrong in asserting that all regulation will stop innovation.

It’s also noteworthy that the FCC regulated broadcast networks, especially the number of television stations they could own (I remember this while working for NBC in the 1970s).  Likewise, movie studios were not allowed to own theater chains (that has somewhat changed more recently).

But by analogy, it doesn’t seem logical that reasonable rules preventing ordinary content throttling would stymie innovation where there are real benefits to consumers (like higher speeds for high definition movies, or for emergency medical services, and the like), or, for that matter, better service in rural areas.

There are also claims that new telecom technologies could enter the market, and that Obama-like net neutrality rules would stifle newcomer telecom companies.  Maybe this could bear on super-high-speed FIOS, for example, that Google has tried in a few cities.

Then, some of the punditry get speculative.  For example, a faith-based ISP might want to set up a very restricted service for religious families. It sounds rather improbable, but maybe that needs to be OK.  Or maybe a Comcast or Verizon wants to offer a low-end Internet service that doesn’t offer all websites, just an approved whitelist.  Maybe that appeals to locally socialized families with little interest in “globalism”.  That sounds a little more serious in its possible impact on other small businesses trying to reach them.

Another idea that cannot be dismissed out of hand, is that telecom companies could be prodded to deny connection access to illegal content, such as terror promotion or child pornography, or even sex trafficking (as with the Backpage controversy).

If we did have an environment where websites had to pay every telecom company to be hooked up to them, it’s likely that hosting companies like Bluehost would have to build this into their fees to take care of it.  I actually have four separate hosted WordPress blog domains.  It’s significant that Bluehost (and probably other companies) allow a user just one hosting account with a primary domain name.  Add-on domains are internally made subdomains of the primary and converted internally.  So, the user would probably only he “charged” for one hookup, regardless of the number of blogs.  (It’s also possible to put separate blogs in separate installations of WordPress in separate directories, I believe, but I see no reason now to try it.)   But one mystery to me is, that if Bluehost does have a “primary domain” concept with subdomains, why can’t it make the entire network https (SSL) instead of just one “real” domain?  I expect this will change.  SSL is still pretty expensive for small businesses to offer (they can generally outsource their credit card operations and consumer security, but there is more pressure, from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation, to implement “https everywhere” for all content).

It’s also worthy of note that “free blogs” on services like Blogger and WordPress use a subdomain concept, so there is only one domain name hookup per user to any ISP.  That’s why Blogger can offer https to its own hosted blogs but not to blogs that default to user-owned domain names.

We can note that search engines like Google and Bing aren’t held to a “neutrality” policy and in fact often change their algorithms to prevent unfair (“link farming”) practices by some sites.

So, here we are, having examined net neutrality and its supposed importance to small site owners (nobody really worried about this until around 2008 it seems).  But there are a lot of other issues that could threaten the Internet as we know it.  Many of the proposals revolve around the issue of “downstream liability”:  web hosting companies and social media companies don’t have to review user posts before self-publication for legal problems;  if they had to, users simply could not be allowed to self-publish.  (That’s how things were until the mid 1990s.)  But, as I’ve noted, there are proposals to water down “Section 230” provisions in the US because of issues like terrorism recruiting (especially by ISIS), cyberbulling, revenge porn, and especially sex trafficking (the Backpage scandal).  Hosts and social media companies do have to remove (and report) child pornography now when they find it or when it is flagged by users, but even that content cannot be screened before the fact.  And Facebook and Twitter are getting better at detecting terror recruiting, gratuitous violence, fake news, and trafficking.  But widescale abuse by combative and relatively less educated users starts to raise the ethical question about whether user-generated content needs to pay its own way, rather than become a gratuitous privilege for those who really don’t like to interact with others whom they want to criticize.

In Europe and British Commonwealth countries there is apparently less protection from downstream liability allowed service providers than in the U.S., which would be the reverse of the legal climate when compared to the network neutrality issue.  And Europe has a “right to be forgotten” concept. Yet, user-generated content still seems to flourish in western countries besides the U.S.

I mentioned earlier the idea that a small business or even personal website should help the reader in a real-world sense.  Now Ramsay’s ideas on Blogtyrant seem most applicable to niche marketing.  That is, a business meeting a narrow and specific consumer need will tend to attract followers (hence Blogtyrant’s recommendations for e-mail lists that go beyond the fear of spam and malware).  It’s noteworthy that most niche markets probably would require only one blog site (despite my discussion above of how hosting and service providers handle multiple blogs from one user.) It’s pretty easy to imagine what niche blogs would be like:  those of lawyers (advising clients), financial planners, real estate agents, insurance agents, tax preparers, beauty products, fashion, and games and sports (especially chess).  It would seem that gaming would create its own niche areas.  And there are the famous mommy blogs (“dooce” by Heather Armstrong, who added a new verb to English – note her site has https –, although many later “mommy” imitations have not done nearly so well).  I can imagine how a well-selling fiction author could set up a niche blog, to discuss fiction writing (but not give away her own novels).

Another area would be political activism, where my own sense of ethics makes some of this problematical, although Ii won’t get into that here.

In fact, my whole history has been the opposite, to play “Devil’s advocate” and provide “objective commentary” and “connect the dots” among almost everything, although how I got into this is a topic for another day (it had started with gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell” in the US in the 1990s, and everything else grew around it).   One could say that my entering the debate this way meant I could never become anyone else’s mouth piece for “professional activism” or conventional salesmanship (“Always Be Closing”).  I guess that at age 54 I traded queens into my own (chess) endgame early, and am getting to the king-and-pawn stage, looking for “the opposition”.

There’s a good question about what “helps people”.  “The Asylumist” is a good example; it is written by an immigration lawyer Jason Dzubow specifically to help asylum seekers.  Jason doesn’t debate the wisdom of immigration policy as an intellectual exercise, although he has a practical problem of communicating what asylum seekers can expect during the age of Trump – and some of it is unpredictable. On this (my) blog, I’ve tried to explore what other civilians who consider helping asylum seekers (especially housing them personally) could expect.  Is that “helping people” when what I publish is so analytical, tracing the paths of speculation?  I certainly have warned a lot of people about things that could get people into trouble, for example, allowing someone else (even an Airbnb renter!) to use your home Internet router connection, for which you could be personally liable (sorry, no personalized Section 230).  Is the end result (of my own blog postings) to make people hesitant to offer a helping hand to immigrants out of social capital (and play into Donald Trump’s hands)?  I think I’m making certain problems a matter of record so policy makers consider them, and I have some ample evidence that they do.  But does that “help people” the way a normal small business does?

Getting back to how a blog helps a small business, the underlying concept (which does not work with my operation) is that the business pays for itself, by meeting real needs that consumers pay for (let’s hope they’re legitimate, not porn).  Legitimate business use of the Internet should come from “liking people.”  If blogging were undermined by a combination of policy changes in the US under Trump, it might not affect people everywhere else (although Theresa May wants it to), and it would be especially bad for me with my free-content model based on wealth accumulated elsewhere (some of it inherited but by no means all of it); but legitimate for-profit businesses will always have some basic way to reach their customers.

There has been talk of threats to blogging before.  One of the most serious perils occurred around 2005, in connection with campaign finance reform in the U.S., which I had explained here.

(Posted: Monday, June 12, 2017 at 12 noon EDT USA)

The electronics “travel ban” (from a few overseas airports for now) begs big future questions about staying connected “on the road”, especially for small businesses

In late March, the United States and then the UK instituted a ban on most electronics (larger than a smart phone) in the cabins of direct flights from a number of airports in the Middle East and Africa, largely Muslim countries.  The UK list is slightly smaller than the US list.  So far, other western countries have not yet followed suit.

NBC News produced a story by Harriet Baskas March 22 on how travelers were irked here.  Obviously there could be issues about cancellations and trying to change to connecting flights in Europe.  I’ll come back to that.

Firday, March 31,  CNN produced (in a story by Evan Perez, Jodi Enda, and CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr) what it calls an exclusive story on the intelligence behind the travel ban.  The claim is that associates of Al Qaeda, largely in enclaves in Yemen, have developed ways to hide plastic explosives inside laptops, possibly in a DVD bay, in such a way that laptops would still start if travelers are challenged at airports.  There is concern that terrorists might have acquired prototype screening machines to test their devices.  Presumably these devices can be detonated only manually.  But theoretically, devices could be improvised that could be detonated by cell phones even if stored in cargo bays, if close enough to other similar devices.

DHS would obviously be concerned that terrorists could communicate in different parts of the world and spread this “expertise”.  Through the dark web, such information might become available to disaffected “lone wolf” or small cell groups in the U.S.,

Confounding the logic of the ban is the recent concern over the safety of lithium batteries in cargo. A few older laptops from the middle 2000s have caught fire, at least when charging, as happened with some teens in California recently.   But the concern for safely of lithium batteries in laptops is much less than for other devices, including some Samsung smart phones (some makes may not be brought onto planes) and hoverboards, which have caught fire in apartments and private homes while charging.

Also countermanding this picture are recent reports of research (as at Stanford) showing that aluminum based batteries may be safer than lithium and could be engineered to be acceptable replacements for many devices.

AC360, Anderson Cooper’s news analysis program, interviewed some experts on May 31,  Saturday, April 1, 2017. CNN interviewed Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General for the US Department of Transportation.  Later Robert Baer was interviewed.  Most of these guests expressed the obvious view that the Mideast cabin laptop ban begs the question as to whether it will be expanded, and could eventually become routine, even on domestic US flights.

DHS says that it has multiple layers of security, which includes the latest screening machines.  DHS apparently believed that airports in the affected countries did not have the same level of security.

Some observers have even claimed that the laptop bans were instituted out of Trump-style “protectionism”.

Business travelers generally need to carry their electronics with them and work on planes.  Owners of small businesses also would need to, as would “professional” journalists.

The worst case scenario would be sudden bans of all electronics on flights, even though in the West hundreds of millions of people fly with no intention of harming others.  This sounds like the “trojan horse” argument in the immigration debate, which Donald Trump has leveraged.

Tech companies could envisions solutions.  Until now, the TSA has always told air travelers not to check laptops and tablets, possibly because of the lithium issue, but largely because the devices are likely to be damaged.  It is possible to imagine sturdy (and explosion-proof) containers in which they could be packed, with the cases sold on Amazon or by stores like Best Buy.  It is possible to imagine expedited services to ship electronics for longer trips by UPS or FedEx to airport stores to be picked up on arrival, for use  after arriving.  There have been issues with bringing conventional photo film home on planes in the past, and I have mailed it home (just USPS)  before to get around the issue.

Frida Ghitis wrote on CNN about her experience with having to pack her laptop and other devices suddenly. CNBC reports that at least two Mideast airlines loaned passengers corporate laptops for inflight use, which works for passengers who have saved their data on memory sticks or in the Cloud.

Its also possible to envision a ground rental industry comparable to car rentals (maybe rented with cars).  But security for the devices would be a huge issue requiring innovation.  Right now the travel industry is not prepared to offer these services, because it has always assumed (since the late 1990s at least) that most travelers want to carry their own electronics.

Hotels do have business centers, which are generally inadequate with only one or two not very secure computers.  I use these only to print boarding passes before returning.

Back in the period between 1997 and up to 2006, after I had established my online sites (doaskdotell.com and the prior hppub.com) I sometimes traveled without electronics.  At the time, it was common for airports to require laptop startup (not always).  More recently, laptops in TSA-approved bags have not had to be started.  But in the early 2000’s there were more facilities in hotels or nearby Kinkos’ stores for checking email.  At that time, I often checked my sites to make sure they were up but did not try to update them online.  I did use my AOL email online.  I did this one on week-long trip to Phoenix and Las Vegas from Minnesota in 2000, probably checking email four times.  One hotel had Kinkos next door.  In Europe, in both 1999 and 2001, I carried a primitive cell phone, but no computers.  A hotel in Bilbao, Spain had a really large business center with very good response time and plenty of terminals.  I was able to find well run Internet cafes in London.  But I don’t know if I could find this level or service today.

Since taking up blogging at the start of 2006, I feel it is important to be able to update Blogger every day (almost), and WordPress blogs like this one somewhat less frequently.  Were I to receive a “complaint”, I need to be able to fix a problem when “on the road”.  (I don’t get the last at-bat, by analogy to baseball.)

My understanding that only “mobile” blogs on Blogger can be updated by phones (this may have changed, typical link). Mobile blogging on WordPress is possible (link).  I am not sure now whether these techniques could work with my setup now.  A small keyboard would help.  The last time I tried, Blogger could not be updated from an iPad without third party apps.  All of this I would need to check into later.

All of this could preview an environment where eventually web hosting companies could require third party contacts to update content in case of complaints and the owner could not be reached.  I’ve never heard this idea mentioned, but it sounds plausible.  (This would lead to discussion of the digital executor issue, which I’ve covered on my main legacy blog on Blogger).

Conventional social media (Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram) are much more easily used in a mobile-only environment without access to computing resources.   But these don’t serve the same self-publishing interests that true web hosting (including embedded Blogging) services.  I can also become relevant whether one is posting on a “free blog” or whether it is hosted (which right now, to my understanding, happens only with WordPress).

The ability to stay connected on the road is potentially very critical to the way I conduct my own business.  I will stay abreast of it and report.

(Posted: Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

Update: Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 12 noon EDT

CNN has a report that more airports and countries may be added to the electronics ban, but expansion of the ban is not necessarily eminent.

Updated: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT

CBS reports that the TSA and DHS are considering adding all or most European and UK airports to the electronics ban.  The policy would seemingly affect only flights to the U.S.  It is not clear if it makes sense to put a lot of lithium batteries in checked luggage, and the policy would contradict previous TSA guidance that laptops are likely to be damaged in checked luggage.  Can proper containers be designed and sold?  Could users instead just ship laptops back home by FedEx, UPS (or ordinary mail)?  I used to do that with photographic film because it could not survive carry-on security machines.  Do we need to build an adequate computer rental (like car rental) business for travelers. at least for international?

 

A few good links about service, resistance, and civil disagreement — and engagement

Here are a few links today that have to do with the general area of “giving back” when you are privileged, or perhaps the “Pay It Forward” idea (like the 2000 movie).

The first is a blog post from the “Mental Health Wellness Blog” of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA.  Yes, this congregation certainly has more than its share of high performers, in high school and college students, and grownups.  It’s generally mainstream liberal (more or less Obama and Clinton).  Maybe some (like the Steve Bannon crowd) would see some elitism, but in the past the pastor has introduced ideas like “radical hospitality” (right before Hurricane Sandy, which did little damage here), which might arguably matter today in the immigration (refugee and asylum seeker) issue. In fact, the congregation has sponsored one refugee family (which is thoroughly pre-vetted and housed in a regular commercially rented townhouse or apartment in northern Virginia).  Some of the congregation participates in community activities like “Lotsa Helping Hands”, which do build social capital.

The blog posting title is titled “Talking Politics”.   The tone of the post presumes that most people with “real lives” (families to raise) need to focus narrowly on things and have limited interest in the abstraction of political issues that you see all the time on CNN (most of all in the age of Donald Trump).  A couple of points stood out.  One idea is to be focused on one or two issues.  I started out that way two decades ago with “gays in the military” (in the early days of “don’t ask, don’t tell”) but, partly because of background and my own approach to “retirement”, I spread out into most policy issues, concentrically, over the years, in my books and blogs.  So I’ve been breaking that rule for a long time.  The other point is in item 3, to “volunteer” and to make sure some our your work is “offline” and uses your “body” as well as your mind.  That could get dicey.  Yes, it can start with the practical issue of service, being efficient in meeting the real needs of other people as, (in the polarity speak of the Paul Rosenfels Community – formerly Ninth Street Center  — demands on “feminine subjectives” – unbalanced personalities like me., which I wound up doing dishes for their Saturday Night potlucks back in the 1970s). But it could extend to allowing your own body and its external trappings to become fungible – like the “Be Brave and Shave” fundraisers at the Westover Market in Arlington a few years ago (for cancer).

The next point is an edgy piece on the Foundation for Economic Education, by African-American columnist TJ Brown, “Fight for a More Civilized Bigotry”.  Maybe this sounds like an oxymoron. Brown talks about the  development of his own attitude toward transgender (or non-binary gender) people. But he correctly (and with writing far gentler than from people like Milo Yiannopoulos) notes that the “radical Left” demands obedience to its demands from those who have been in some privileged class.  His column fits well into the discussion of campus speech codes, as well as violent protests.  Note the recent statement from the James Madison Program at Princeton after the unrest at the appearance of libertarian Charles Murray (“The Bell Curve”, “Coming Apart”) at a campus event in New Hampshire – let alone Milo.

Then I note a Facebook posting by Jack Andraka (Stanford University sophomore, known for inventing a simple blood test for pancreatic cancer, as chronicled in his 2015 book “Breakthrough“) today,   He writes “Development is complicated and these issues don’t lend themselves to ‘silver bullets’ If you’re thinking of going into development or really any non-profit/social entrepreneurship venture read this”.  That is, an article by Courtney Martin, “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems”, here.   Now the word “development” in this context usually means “fund raising”, or it may mean going to a hardship area to serve.  The writer asks young adults particularly to think twice about the idea that going overseas is the best way to serve.  It certainly may be riskier (like Doctors Without Borders and Ebola recently – or the 2003 film “Beyond Borders” by Martin Campbell.

.The last reference for the day concerns “resistance”.  I think that the boundaries between service, activism, and resistance are getting blurred these days, which may be disorienting to many people contemplating their own actions (me, for one). The Invisible Team has published a handbook on Google Docs, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”.  First, the word “agenda” catches my attention.  For a few months in 2009-2010, the Washington Blade newspaper called itself the “DC Agenda” when its parent company folded, until it got the right to use its trademarked name as an independent paper. Anyway, the Guide refers, of course, to community organizing (in the style of Barack Obama, maybe).  There is the appropriate focus on local issues, but one point stood out, to act defensively, rather than make your own policy proposals (which I do).  It sounds like saying its OK to pimp the victimhood of members of your own marginalized group.  Say how much you’re oppressed!  That never sits well, with me at least.

I do think it is very hard to make a difference with service — beyond the political value of “paying your dues” as an answer to inequality — without belonging to a group and sharing your life in some substantial, interpersonal way with others in the group, with some sense of proprietary loyalty to those persons.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)