Downsizing in retirement, my own observations, Part 3: rent or own?

I wanted to follow some followup on the questions I posed May 13 about seniors qualifying for rental housing or condo purchase after selling an oversized house.  Many of the issues I had to “preview” relate to the fact that I was living in a 1949-built house owned legally by my (late) mother’s trust, not technically by me.  But I do have the powers as the sole acting trustee.

I’ve had conversations with two separate high-end modern high-rise properties (both built in the 70s-80s) and both told me that they would rent to a retired senior who could demonstrate more than sufficient assets in a checking account (one that will not lose principal other than from making actual payments) to cover the term of a lease.  Lease amounts tend to lead to lower monthly rents for longer terms, but rental prices are set algorithmically daily based on supply and demand in a specific geographical area;  most corporate large landlords use these automated processes to set rents.

There is a possible risk that a lease would not be renewed (as if the renter could not come up with the same reserve guarantee for a renewal, or if a building were sold for condo, or if market rent spiked suddenly).

I did wind up purchasing a condo for about one-third of what the house sold for, even allowing for extra expenses (and replacing a heat pump compressor immediately on me).  Mathematically, it is likely that the remaining gain in liquidity will last longer (allowing for property taxes and condo dues, and some repairs) than a larger amount would spent entirely on rent.

As I indicated on my (personal) “Notes” blog in a recent post, there can be restrictions on how the liquidity gain in a trust (irrevocable in the name of a parent or ancestor) is spent.  Some trusts discourage the sale of an estate house (on the theory it should stay in the family) or try to prohibit downsizing real estate holdings unless there is a specific special need on the part of a trustee or beneficiary.  I found that a condo purchase for cash in the name of mother’s trust seemed to be OK with everyone (at one time I wanted it to be in another trust in my own name only).  This might not have been the case had a mortgage been necessary.  (A reverse mortgage might be allowed.)

Special needs are met in a variety of senior housing developments for rent (sometimes purchase).  Some offer meals and have HUD-subsidized rents.  Typically there is a qualification formula that includes a specific percentage of the person’s total assets (I think it is 0.8% per year right now) to count as income.  This arrangement is certainly subject to the whims of policy (Congress or the administration).  There are other high-end properties (like Goodwin House in northern Virginia) that require a large deposit to rent, but then allow move-in to an assisted living unit when that becomes necessary.  Use of trust money for the trustee’s own special medical needs sometimes requires medical supervision, monitoring and approval.

The general lesson from all of this on trusts is that they are “convenient” for someone inheriting an estate in usually avoiding probate court.  But they often restrict how liquid assets (beyond the distribution instructions to other family inherit-ees), are used, and impose fiduciary responsibility on the trustee that discourages further distributions (other than providing some income to beneficiaries) until after the trustee’s own death.  They usually are quite serious about the trustee’s being able to handle to unpredictable possibility of his own needs (like stroke, Alzheimer’s, etc.)

There was somewhat of a reversal in the expectation that, after closing on the sale, there would be a period of time before I picked a property to buy.  In exchange for a higher initial sales price, I accepted an arrangement where I had only three weeks to leave after closing. But I also picked out the condo much sooner and there was an arrangement to make sure funds would move properly in the split settlement with two title companies.  This agreement could not have worked in a situation where a senior goes on a waiting list to get into a HUD-subsidized unit because of a special need.

There was less time to look at a large number of possible purchase properties than I had anticipated in my own mental “preview”. (This excluded looking a possibly cheaper properties in other cities — unless I went through the complications of living in an extended stay place for a while and keeping everything in storage.)  You normally can’t look at a (used) property without a realtor making an appointment and generally need to have a “done deal” on your own sale first.

Condo purchase did encourage a condo property policy (which is slightly more expensive when a trust owns the condo) and security system installed by the cable company.  Once again, a very distant reflection of the network neutrality debate:  telecom companies should be able to tailor specific packages and service add-ons for individual consumers as long as they allow all lawful Internet content to be available for those who want it.

(Posted: Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017 at 12:30 PM EST)


Cato Institute holds forum on “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”

Today, Tuesday November 28, 2017, the Cato Institute held a 90-minute symposium “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”.

The basic link is here.  (Cato will presumably supply the entire video in the live space soon.)

The event was moderate by Marian L. Tupy, and featured Danish author Flemming Rose (author of “The Tyranny of Silence”, now a Cato fellow), and Christina Hoff Sommers. Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute.

Rose focused at first on UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1965), Article 20, Paragraph 2, which included a definition of “hate speech” to include “any advocacy or national, religious or racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence…”.   That is, incitement is more than incitement for near term lawless action (as in the US); it includes encouraging others to discriminate. The US and most European countries voted against this at first, but most European countries have come around to this notion in their hate speech laws today.  Authoritarian countries favored this approach, because dictators think that they can stay in power if various minority groups are placated.

Rose traced legal sanctions against both hate speech and fake news distribution to the early days of Communism, back with the Bolshevik revolution (like the 1981 movie “Reds”) where news distribution was viewed in terms of propaganda.  Fake news manipulation (as a propaganda exercise) by foreign enemies is more likely when those who view themselves as educated and elite (“Hillary-like”) have little personal contact with those who are not;  in 2016 the Russians seem to have taken advantage of unawareness of “populism” by more conventional policy pundits.  But it should be obvious that fake news runs the legal risks of libel and defamation litigation, which may be a little easier to parry in the US than in Europe.

Rose also made the point that minorities need free speech to advance themselves, rather than regard free speech as an incitement or invitation to others to continue discrimination.

Authoritarian and leftist interpretation of hate speech law tends to give very little credit to the individual to be able to think and learn from himself, but assumes people will vote in terms of tribal interests, which often is true (as we found out with the election of Trump and Russian meddling). Rose included some panels of modern European fake news law, from Germany and Italy.

Sommers talked about the rapid expansion of campus speech codes, with ideas like trigger warnings and microaggressions and safe spaces, since about 2010.  This seems to have developed rather suddenly. Sommers attributed the rise of these campus speech codes to an ideology of “intersectionality”, a theory of multidimensional group oppression.

At least two questions from the audience came from undergraduate college students, one at GWU, who said that influence of “intersectional” thinking had been quite shocking to him. Milo Yiannopoulos had spent a good part of his “Dangerous” book explaining the perils of this idea.  But other writers, as in the transgender community recently, have tried to make a lot of it.  Again, there seems to be a loss of the idea that self-concept should come from the self (a tautology) and not inherited group identification.

Several thoughts need reinforcement. One is that “hate speech” codes don’t draw a clear line between actual commission of acts and becoming connected to others doing bad things (like “watching” and journaling but not intervening — the “no spectators” idea).  Another is that these collectivist behavior norms regard “systematic” discrimination against identifiable groups (or “intersections” of groups) as akin to actual violence and aggression against the constituent individuals.  Still another idea is that “meta-speech”, where commentators or journalists speak about the discriminatory value systems of the past in order to impart a sense of history, sometimes may come across as an invitation or gratuitous reminder for aggressive politicians to try the same behaviors again;  speakers should be expected to put their own skin in the game.  Finally, there is a loss of interest in individualism itself, partly because “hyper-individualism” tends to leave a lot of people behind as less “valuable”. There is more emphasis on belonging to the tribe or group, or at least in meeting standards of supervised community engagement.

Many attendees had seen the breaking news of (Communist) North Korea’s missile test today on their smartphone just before the session started.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

Don’t honk at drivers who resist turning right on red; you can’t see all the hazards yourself

Here’s some more stuff on safe driving.

At some intersections in northern Virginia, right turn on red is permitted (or not forbidden by sign) but obviously dangerous as obstacles block sight of oncoming vehicles at higher speeds (allow speed limit plus 10).  Furthermore, at some intersections, pedestrian traffic is heavy and wrong way bicycle traffic (however illegal) happens.

So sometimes I do not turn on red.  And drivers behind honk, even though they cannot see around the corners.

Yesterday I had an occasion where a driver honked continuously and tried to run me off the road after I turned when it turned green.

There are discussions about this problem online, such as on Reddit. No, I’m not using my smartphone. No, it’s not “stupid” to ignore the “protection” of a left-turning vehicle from the other direction, because that driver doesn’t necessarily check the lane closest to me (and could come into my lane).

Driver should no that a driver in front of them is not legally obligated to turn right on red, and may see dangers that “you” can’t see,

One time in Minneapolis, a driver passed me to turn right when I didn’t turn and the cops immediately stopped him.

There’s another issue: slow driving in the left lane.  Agreed.  One shouldn’t do it.  But in this area there are many situations where traffic merges in from the left (one of the most notorious is from the center median rest areas on I-95 in northern Maryland).  Then the driver in heavy traffic cannot get up enough speed to move over quickly.  Many drivers don’t reduce speed even when they see a driver needs to merger.

There seems to be an attitude that some combativeness in driving (like in cycling) is necessary and somehow virtuous.

One other suggestion:  communities should increase the green light delay time (or increase the yellow time) on very wide intersections.  This might have prevented the fatal crash in Florida involving Venus Williams.

If you’re in the UK or Commonwealth country (other than Canada) and drive on the left, then this blog post applies to left turners.

(Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 6 PM EST)

Downsizing in retirement, my own observations: Part 2: home-based business issues

One of the concerns I had prospectively and when in “preview mode” about selling the estate house and specifically buying a condo, was the issue of running what is legally viewed as a home-based business in the condo.

In the house, I had a normal county business license typical for “writers” and a sales tax license from Virginia, so that I could legally sell copies of the four books I have authored. While most sales are from Amazon, my cooperative publisher expects me to be open to buying copies of books and either wholesaling them to bookstores (especially independent) or retailing them directly to consumers.  That s why I have a payment portal, however used, on another blog, with SSL encryption.

The business licenses and sales tax licenses required the connection of my residence address with the county and state (even a UPS store would not do;  it had to be a location where business really could be conducted, either an office or a home). Before closing on the sale of the house, then, I had to cancel these licenses so that the old address was no longer attached to the house I would sell in any public record. Actually, I found no evidence that title companies or buyers try to check for this.  However, as a I.T. person familiar with relational databases (SQL) and “direct connect” or replication processing, it’s all to easy for me to imagine how this could start.

The same question will come up in my new location, for me to resume the capacity to “sell”.  Generally, condo associations have rules that can restrict home based businesses.  High-rise condos (and probably coops) may tend to be stricter than townhome developments, and may well have rules stricter than the local county or city.  But homeowners associations sometimes restrict businesses in gated communities even where the land is individually owned.  I covered this problem in August in some detail on this set of legacy posts.  But generally, most of them are concerned mainly with businesses that cause consumers regularly to come to the property, or which require physical changes to the property or signage on the property.

It is common for condo by-laws to state that units are for residential use only. Sometimes they forbid “vocational” or “professional” use, or “exploratory”, which I am told means that the owner doesn’t live in the unit but uses it only for business.  Some have clauses banning non-profits, fund-raising organizations (like for political candidates) and religious organizations from operating from residential units (and some suburban cities have townhome developments set aside by zoning specifically for these purposes).  Generally, they don’t have a problem with a writer or blogger simply using the Internet from the unit, as long as everything is lawful (although I would wonder if the blogger was involved in extremist activities).  I would presume that in most cases telecommuting to work would be all right, as would home-based customer service jobs that require only a normal PC and stable Internet connection.

Condos vary on their policy on short-term rentals like Airbnb.  Generally, large suburban complexes will ban hotel-type renting;  but expensive condos in trendy areas of large cities are often built with the idea that such rental use is allowed and even encouraged;  these units are popular with some celebrities. It can be difficult to “catch” an owner violating a ban, but recently some condos have begun using automated tools to scan the Web for violations.

Still, it may be worth looking in to finding an expensive “office” in a small town as an official business address, and possibly try to do so in combination with other authors or small business owners.  It wouldn’t be necessary to go there often.

Another possibility is to conduct business at events in other cities, as with my recent trip to the Miami Book Fair.

In my “previews” I did talk to one rental agent for a typical high-rise apartment (rental only, not ownership). They did not have objection to “quiet” home based businesses that are otherwise legal in the county or city. However, I can imagine circumstances where a controversial tenant is forced to leave if he or she is perceived as attracting danger to others in the unit, but I have not heard of any specific cases of this.

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

Activists warn users about FCC vote Dec. 14 to reverse net neutrality rules; will telecom companies really do anything drastic?

Here we go again.  Yesterday, shortly before boarding a plane to return from a long weekend in “Paradise” (the south Florida beaches – and the Keys, not in such good shape), I got a coercive email form FTFF (Fight for the Future) urging donations and “taking action” for a call-in (link)  The FCC, if you haven’t heard, will vote on suspending Obama’s network neutrality rules, taking the vote on Thursday Fec. 14, 2017.  It’s a little unclear how long the “unchanges” would take to happen.  Expect more litigation.  Ajit Pai gives us his own words on this PDF.

The Washington Post this morning produced a brief article by Brian Fung almost as menacing, hinting that the FCC will soon allow the cats into the refrigerator, with telecom companies dictating which sites readers can have.  (More details in Post here).

Back around the time of the July 12 protest more moderate sites like Vox had opined, and warned on a slower, less equal Internet as probably inevitable.  Indeed, panicky protests from activists scaring readers with sensational emails aren’t

Kate Cox from the Consumerist has an analysis of NCTA’s informal promise (June 30 here) to honor free speech from the small fries. “18 cable companies promise to honor net neutrality; none will guarantee you in writing.”   Along these lines, Comcast had made a lukewarm reassurance to users in this blog post. And see “broadbandforAmerica” weigh in here.

Bloomberg, with its modestly libertarian leanings, has several articles.  The first one I found is a bit muddy, but the Tyler Cowen offers a reassuring perspective here.

Along these lines, it’s important to remember that the regulatory authority would move from the FCC back to the FTC, which cannot make rules about throttling content, but can enforce rules about “transparency.” The FCC would also abandon its classification of backbone telecom companies as “Title II” utility providers.

But a formal editorial in Bloomberg suggests Congress intervene, and require what sounds like common sense: that telecom companies not interfere with normal access to legal websites as it works today, but allow paid fast lanes when the scope is limited (like for medical services, enhancements for gaming or streaming, etc).  Speculation in the past has suggested that doing so would degrade ordinary service, but not if bandwidth in a geographical area has enough capacity (which it doesn’t in some poorer areas). Bloomberg mentions the incidents after Charlottesville this summer when Cloudflare and then other major Internet companies denied Daily Stormer the capacity to be connected or register through their services, so you can make the argument that private companies already have the ability to control what their users are allowed to see based on somewhat arbitrary grounds.  (Daily Stormer’s content was called “immoral”, but not, compared to child pornography or perhaps sex trafficking ads, illegal). While the Stormer content seems quite extreme and unprecedented in the minds of average users, this does sound like a slippery slope.  But Comcast, at least, has promised it would never block lawfully permitted (even if offensive) content (NYTimes article 11/22) and hopefully other major companies like Cox and Verizon will say the same thing.

Bloomberg is hinting, however, that the threat that activists perceive that the loss of net neutrality (which we didn’t have until 2015) to small business or to small websites face, needs to be viewed in the context of other problems, such as erosion of Section 230 (with the Backpage controversy), and concerns over terror recruiting and fake news.  Companies in both telecom transmission and content hosting or service businesses have to wonder about their fiduciary responsibilities to investors, and it could get harder to serve users whose content doesn’t pay its own way. So, yes, the editorial suggests a sensible compromise, which needs Congress.

I would add that DOJ’s litigation to hinder merging of Time Warner with ATT does suggest that “even” the Trump administration is concerned  (in the anti-trust sense) about monopoly and lack of competition.  So, if there is any competition at all, will large telecom companies have any reason to hinder consumer access to all legal content?  I would think not – but we do wonder about incidents like Stormer and rising extremism.

I noticed when on a Southwest flight yesterday that the airlines do their own version of withdrawing net neutrality.  They offer free wifi to passengers, but only to show their content.  You can pay $8 for regular access.

The Wall Street Journal has a fairly balanced perspective by John McKinnon Nov. 20 here.

Wired has a comprehensive story (leading to other links) by Klint Finley explaining that the Administrative Procedure Act, design to prevent capricious regulatory policy changes following partisan administration change, could form the basis to a legal challenge to Pai’s intentions.

“Leftist” Truthout gives this analysis, getting into the regulatory environment pretty well.  Trickle down doesn’t trickle?   Think Progress also talks about erosion of a program giving poor people phone service — and I can recall in my early days of retirement job hunting that distribution of phone cards came up as a possibility.

On Nov. 14, I had posted a legacy blog summary of Pai’s reappointment, and on Oct. 28 this one about his recent testimony in House hearings.

(Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 at 6 PM EST)

Update: Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 at 1 PM

The Wall Street Journal weighs in heavily again today, as with Ajit Pai’s own libertarian op-ed that says that loosening regulations will help most users and consumers.  Yes, Reagan-style Republicanism (not Trump) is good for a lot of more sentient consumers.  MacKinnon and Knutson have a newer piece predicting that telecom companies will make deals with large content companies like Facebook and Google to speed up their content.  That worries me because small businesses and niche bloggers who have their own separate hosted sites need to set themselves up this way to “brand” themselves rather than depend on “somebody else’s free service”.  Ajit Pai probably believes that hosting companies (like BlueHost) can set up deals with the large providers (Comcast, Cox, Verizon, etc) and pass the benefits (for slight increases in hosting prices) on to customers who have their own sites.  I suspect it would take some time for all of these changes to happen, maybe most of 2018.

It’s interesting that FCC Commissioner Clyburn has his own piece opposing Pai’s move on the FCC site, here. It’s noteworthy that he thinks telecom companies could disrupt small site access “on a whim”, which sounds unlikely in a real world. There were few such disruptions before 2015 (although I do remember a controversy about BitTorrent).

Cyclists and their salmoning

Last week, I had a narrow miss myself when left turning across fast traffic at night, and an amateur biker darted in from the wrong way from the dark, almost getting hit. He cursed me, but when I stopped to assure no collision had occurred, he seemed more apologetic.

Seriously, many amateur bikers do not realize how difficult it will be for drivers to see them in time.  Pedestrians are moving slowly (although joggers could be moving quickly) and can claim right of way in crosswalks and many situations. But cyclists are often moving at least 20 mph, close to the speed of a car. There is no time for drivers to see them from the wrong direction.

Yet, some amateur bikers talk as if they are on the moral high ground (having no empathy for driver exposure to liability as well as there own safety), and that people shouldn’t drive at all, and that life involves taking risks for some common good.  I mention this as an attitude of many boys in section 3 of Chapter 1 of my DADT-1 book.

Bikers often run red lights, meaning they have to be passed multiple times when otherwise riding legally with traffic.

Here are a few references(bikeeasy, Bicyclesafe, npr), especially on the topic of “salmoning” or wrong-war riding for convenience.  Note the other terms, like “shoaling”.

Here’s an earlier legacy posting of mine, that cyclists should follow the same rules as motor vehicles. Note the Washington Post comments.

(Posted: Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 at 9:30 PM EST)

Downsizing in retirement: My own observations, Part 1: decluttering

I am nearing the completion of my downsizing, selling and moving out of an “estate” house and into a smaller condo.

I approached this subject with a posting here May 13, and said this would be an OJT experience.  I tried to preview the issues that could come up, and indeed there were a lot of unexpected twists.

It will take several postings to cover in detail some important points of what I learned from what actually happened, and some of this will be discussed with more specifics on my “doaskdotellnotes” blog where I talk about my obligations under my own trust.

I did want to hit one point hard tonight: the value of decluttering before downsizing. The house had a lot of unnecessary “stuff’ (kitchen related) that my parents had used.  I have also accumulated a lot of books and CD’s over the years, partly before my life played out largely before you could put your collections in the Cloud in digital format. I also had a lot of personal papers on various matters (like substitute teaching, and various matters concerning the original publication of my books).  Finally I had a lot of excess clothing.



What struck me was the amount of manual labor required to pack (by the moving company) and to haul away the junk (by junk removal companies, which I had really started before, especially with excess furniture).  All of this was on top of some furniture donations through the realtor to hurricane victims.

I remember on some volunteer assignments how much effort goes into sorting used clothing for distribution to clients in various community assistance and service events.  It takes a lot of time to deal with an unneeded item, either to give it away to someone who would really need it, or to dispose of it safely.  It does add perspective on volunteerism, which  may be more of a matter of hours and time than I used to think.

(Posted: Thursday, November 16, 2017, at 7L30 PM EST)

SESTA clears Senate committee, and Congress seems serious about stopping trafficking, even if it requires sacrifices from Internet users — and it seems superfluous

Electronic Frontier Foundation has reported that the Senate Commerce Committee has approved a version of SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, S. 1693.  Elliot Harmon’s article calls it “still an awful bill”.   Harmon goes into the feasibility of using automated filters to detect trafficking-related material, which very large companies like Google and Facebook might be half-way OK with. We saw this debate on the COPA trial, about filtering, more than a decade ago (I attended one day of that trial in Philadelphia in October 2006). No doubt, automated filtering would cause a lot of false positives and implicit self-censoring.

Apparently the bill contains or uses a “manager’s amendment”  (text) floated by John Thune (R-SD) which tries to deal with the degree of knowledge that a platform may have about its users.  The theory seems to be that it is easy to recognize the intentions of customers of Backpage but not of a shared hosting service. Sophia Cope criticizes the amendment here.

Elliot Harmon also writes that the Internet Association (which represents large companies like Google) has given some lukewarm support to modified versions of SESTA, which would not affect large companies as much as small startups that want user-generated content   It’s important to note that SESTA (and a related House bill) could make it harder for victims of trafficking to discuss what happened to them online, an unintended consequence, perhaps.  Some observers have said that the law regarding sex trafficking should be patterned after child pornography (where the law seems to work without too much interference of users) and that the law is already “there” now.

But “” has published a historical summary by Cindy Cohn and Jamie Williams that traces the history of Section 230 all the way back to a possibly libelous item in an AOL message board regarding Oklahoma City (the Zeran case).  Then others wanted to punish Craigslist and other sites for allowing users to post ads that were discriminatory in a Civil Rights sense. The law need to recognize the difference between a publisher and a distributor (and a simple utility, like a telecom company, which can migrate us toward the network neutrality debate).   Facebook and Twitter are arguably a lot more involved with what their users do than are shared hosting sites like BlueHost and Verio, an observation that seems to get overlooked.   It’s interesting that some observers think this puts Wikipedia at particular risk.

I don’t have much an issue with my blogs, because the volume of comments I get is small (thanks to the diversion by Facebook) these days compared to 8 years ago.  When I accept a guest post, I should add that Section 230 would not protect me, since I really have become the “publisher” so if a guest post is controversial, I tend to fact-check some of the content (especially accusations of crimes) myself online.

I’d also say that a recent story by Mitch Stoltz about Sci-Hub, relating to the Open Access debate which, for example. Jack Andraka has stimulated in some of his Ted Talks, gets to be relevant (in the sense that DMCA Safe Harbor is the analogy to Section 230 in the copyright law world). A federal court in Virginia ruled against Sci-Hub (Alexandra Elbakyan) recently after a complaint by a particular science journal, the American Chemical Society  But it also put intermediaries (ranging from hosting companies to search engines) at unpredictable risk if they support “open access” sites like this. The case also runs some risk of conflating copyright issues with trademark, but that’s a bit peripheral to discussing 230 itself.

Again, I think we have a major break in our society over the value of personalized free speech (outside of the control of organizational hierarchy and aggregate partisan or identity politics).  It’s particularly discouraging when you look at reports of surveys at campuses where students seem to believe that safe places are more important than open debate, and that some things should not be discussed openly (especially involving “oppressed” minorities) because debating them implies that the issues are not settled and that societal protections could be taken away again by future political changes (Trump doesn’t help). We’ve noted here a lot of the other issues besides defamation, privacy and copyright; they include bullying, stalking, hate speech, terror recruiting, fake news, and even manipulation of elections (am issue we already had an earlier run-in about in the mid 2000s over campaign finance reform, well before Russia and Trump and even Facebook). So it’s understandable that many people, maybe used to tribal values and culture, could view user-generated content as a gratuitous luxury for some (the more privileged like me) that diverts attention from remedying inequality and protecting minorities.  Many people think everyone should operate only by participating in organized social structures run top-down, but that throws us back, at least slouching toward authoritarianism (Trump is the obvious example). That is how societies like Russia, China, and say Singapore see things (let alone the world of radical Islam, or the hyper-communism of North Korea).

The permissive climate for user-generated content that has evolved, almost by default, since the late 1990s, seems to presume individuals can speak and act on their own, without too much concern about their group affiliations.  That idea from Ayn Rand doesn’t seem to represent how real people express themselves in social media, so a lot of us (like me) seem to be preaching to our own choirs, and not “caring” personally about people out of our own “cognitive”  circles.  We have our own kind of tribalism.

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 at 2 PM EST)

Update: Monday, Nov 27, 10 AM EST

I’ve said that this doesn’t sound like a direct problem for bloggers moderating comments, but could it mean legal liability if a blogger approved a comment that linked to a site trying to sell sex trafficking. Normally I don’t go to links from many comments out of fear of malware, and I don’t guarantee that commenter’s own embedded hyperlinks are “safe”.  Some comments are in foreign languages, and I generally don’t translate them (I usually insist that they use the normal alphabet).   Could this change?  I suppose however that issue could exist with child pornography now.  This concern applies even though I use a webhosting partner service (Akismet) to filter spam comments.


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.

Update: Nov 20

I found myself going through security after returning a rent car at Fort Lauderdale without the opportunity to check a bag (I later learned that was on a higher floor). So the regular luggage went through the TSA-Prev line and a shaving cream container was confiscated even though it would have been acceptable in checked luggage (which I checked at the gate).

TSA Liquids rule

TSA all items 

Update: Nov. 22:

NBC said tonight that the TSA would soon require most travelers to remove laptops and other larger electronics from bags.  It wasn’t clear if this would apply to TSAPrev.

CNN columnist compares user-generated content to conventional media and warns amateurs on freedom of the press

Brian Stelter offers a very constructive op-ed on CNN today , “Whose Freedom Is It?” in a series, “Free Press: What’s at Stake”.

Stelter takes the practical position (as have I) that many social media users and bloggers have become quasi-establishment journalists, supplementing the major media, and helping with “keeping them honest”, as Anderson Cooper often says.  So amateurs need to take fact-checking seriously.

This freedom may well be undermined by a number of concerns explored here recently. These include erosion of downstream liability protections for service providers (the Backpage-Section 230 problem), increasing legal exposure to “amateur” journalists for certain kinds of hyperlinks and embeds, the fake news scandals of the past year (really, the observation that “average joe” social media users tend to follow tribal crowds rather than read critically), and particularly the ease with which teens and young adults seem to be recruited into violence, which includes but is by no means limited to radical Islam and gang activity.  As I’ve noted here before, these kinds of concerns can make amateur journalism seem “gratuitous” (e.g unnecessary and capable of being shut down) although Trump seems much more concerned about the establishment (Fourth Estate) press than the newbies (Fifth Estate).

But you have to take seriously he demands made on social media platform and search engines to “pre-censor” user ouput.

Consider this article by Karl McDonald, “The Daily Mail Fundamentally Understands What Google Is”    Search engines are particularly having to deal with “the right to be forgotten” outside the US (as well as “digital laundry”).

Speakers on the Internet benefit in different ways from search engines, social media sites (some like Facebook create more opportunity for permanent “publication” than do others, like Snapchat), and shared or dedicated third-party hosting for conventional or blog sites; these providers also usually provide domain name registration. Users  also benefit from security services like Cloudflare and SiteLock.   Generally, social media sites are taking more “responsibility” for certain kinds of damaging speech (hate speech, bullying, or terror recruiting) than are neutral site hosts.   However, after the Daily Stormer matter (post Charlottesville), a few hosts participated in kicking off at least one neo-Nazi site from domain registration.

The “Mediator” Jim Rutenberg wrote a piece “Terrorism Is Faster than Twitter” Nov. 5 in which he traces how NYC bicycle lane terrorist Sayfullo Saipov followed terror recipes exactly, and tries to explain where he found them.  There are supporting details in a Nov. 2 story by Rukmin Callimachi   There is reference to the magazine Rumiyah (related to Dabiq).  A web operation called “Site Intel Group” tries to trace how this material is distributed on the web.  Much of it moves to the Dark Web or P2P.  Generally, it appears that material from these groups disappears quickly from better known social media and from conventionally hosted sites and moves around on offshore providers a lot.  There are articles on the Internet Archive (“WayBack”) which require specific logon (rather uncommon for less controversial material). In general, it does not appear that the sort of material that the Boston Marathon or other domestic “lone wolf” or small cell terrorists tried to use came from the more conventionally accessed and indexed parts of the Web.  Most of it seems pretty underground (after initial recruitment) with various encrypted apps.  We’re left to ponder what is making some of these young men (and sometimes women) tick, and have to face that modern civilization, with its individualized hypercompetitiveness, seems to offer them only failure and shame.

(Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 6:45 PM EST)