Category Archives: national security and infrastructure

Proposed video series (for web or for cable): “What in Life Is (or Should Be) Free”?

I have thought that there ought to be a documentary film about the Open Access issue, and that I could add something to it.

But I would be able to add more to it if the concept were expanded to cover the entire topic of “Free Content”, which has become a practical expectation for consumers and speakers since the mid 1990s with the Internet, especially with the development of modern social media.

I think this concept would work better as a cable series for a channel like Discovery on A&E or even HBO.

So I have to narrow down the concept and unify it.

Part 1

Back around 2012, Reid Ewing had produced a web series of three videos with Igigi Studios called “Reiding”, with the three films called “It’s Free”, “Free Fish”, and “I’m Free”. I don’t know why they are not available now. But the first of the films was set in a public library and set up the exploration of the question “What in life is free?”   It would be possible (after negotiating copyright licenses) to introduce the series with these films, of at least the first one.

The very existence of public libraries suggests that we think some basic knowledge should be “free”. That extends to the idea that public education should be offered to all minors (even immigrants), which is controversial with some conservatives. But even the idea of school choice could be seen as ratifying the idea of education as a basic human right (so that’s one episode).

I think a good title for this series, then. Should be “What in Life Is Free?”

Part 2

We also have to contend with the way people are used to getting knowledge. It has typically been passed down through familial (often patriarchal), religious, and political hierarchies. The use of propaganda by authoritarian leaders (which Vladimir Putin openly admits in defending Russia’s 2013 anti-gay “propaganda” law) presumes that the public and the masses aren’t capable of discerning “truth” for themselves. The use of religious scriptures, and the objection of religious leaders to challenges to interpretation of scripture, dates from a time when science could not explain a lot of things and when people depended on a “priesthood” to get knowledge for them from “God”.

I experienced some of this pressure as a young boy, when I would challenge my father’s authority based on things I had read, even in reference books lying around the house (like on medicine). I started to question why boys had to do dangerous and risky things. My father would complain “you read”.

Yet, a lot of this reference information was sold in a conventional way, through middlemen. We bought our set of World Book Encyclopedias, in 1950, from a door-to-door salesman (remember those colorful state relief maps, no longer published). Later, when I was taking piano, we bought a Sherwood Music School course from a similar salesman.

Part 3

My own narrative fits in best here, because the availability of “free knowledge” increased with the evolution of self-publishing.

Here would fit the entire narrative of the self-publication of my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book (in 1997), originally motivated by the lowering cost of desk-top publishing (book self-publishing through “subsidy publishers” had been known since the early 1970s but had been a very expensive and usually not successful process). I would start placing my content online, and by mid 1998 I was “competing with myself” by offering the book free in simple HTML online.

I did sell out my first printing, and went to POD (print on demand) publishing (with iUniverse) in 2000. But it was the online availability, for free, that allowed me to become known and for my own unique arguments on how to deal with the ban on gays in the military (“don’t ask don’t tell”) to become effective in the growing debate. It was the way search engines (not just Google) worked, at the time giving advantage to very simple sites like mine, that became relevant.

Eventually, years later, I would be pestered by my self-publishing companies about actually getting serious about selling books in physical stores (helping people keep their jobs, Trump-like) or directly from me, rather than just through Amazon and BN online (including just from Kindle and Nook).

Part 4

Several legal developments had the potential to affect self-publishing in this mode. The first was the Communications Decency Act, or Telecommunications Act of 1996. The controversial censorship sections were struck down in 1997, but one portion, Section 230, actually helped the Internet along by shielding Internet service providers (and later publishing platforms) from potential secondary liability.

Congress would try to pass a more “acceptable” censorship bill with the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA). Working through Electronic Frontier Foundation, I became a plaintiff challenging it; eventually prevailing (after two Supreme Court cycles) in 2007 in a trial for merit in Philadelphia.

In the meantime, a parallel concern over copyright infringement followed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, with the safe harbor provision that protected intermediaries (in 230-like fashion) from downstream liability for copyright-related accusations.

I developed an online presence in concentric fashion, covering most policy topics from a libertarian perspective, with simple HTML and free search engine exposure (indeed, to quote Reid Ewing, “It’s free!, it’s free!”)

Important concepts along the way were how web hosting companies work, and how domain name assignment works.

Legal risks for speakers include possible frivolous litigation: SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against pubic participation), which can cause the speaker to spend money defending the self against vindictive claims; copyright trolls (like Righthaven), and possibly trademark litigation over domain names (which is not the same problem as patent trolls).

Part 5

A major development in the “free content” model was modern social media. Originally email list servers had served a social media function in the 90s, but then came Myspace, and then Facebook (with Instagram) and then Twitter. Originally social media (with the idea of “friends” and then “followers”) was intended to build somewhat closed social circles online, but gradually some of them migrated to alternative blogging platforms with news aggregation, morphing eventually into the “fake news” area where some people tend to receive only news that fits their own bubbles.

Blogging platforms (like Blogger and WordPress) were somewhat intermediate, first emphasizing the idea of “followers” but gradually (especially WordPress) migrating into content management systems.

On the other hand, some social media services tended to facilitate harmful and dangerous exploits. These included not only conventional viruses and scams (like phishing) through older email platforms, but also cyberbullying and child pornography distribution, and even terrorist recruiting. But most of the terror recruiting followup occurs on “the dark web” in encrypted fashion on offshore servers, away from the reach of common user-friendly social media. In the days right after 9/11, there was also fear that amateur sites could be hacked by terrorists to spread messages through steganography.

Small businesses, especially “bricks and mortar”, giving personal services (especially contractors), and even some medical providers, would rebel against consumer review sites for unfavorable reviews, as driving them out of business.   Individual consumers would be hit with frivolous suits, although the review sites were protected by Section 230.

Part 6

A related development all these years (from about 1996 to now) was the gradual evolution of network neutrality. The concept was arguably necessary to prevent telecommunications companies from charging some content publishers more than others to be hooked up to their networks. In practice, the hookup has always been “it’s free”, even for amateurs. Trump’s new FCC chairman could undo network neutrality practices put in by the Obama administration in 2014, but it’s unclear how much difference this would make. Are “fast lanes” like “toll lanes” on Interstate highways?

Part 7

The logical outcome of what I had developed was free web references, most of all Wikipedia, which was created in January 2001. The documentary could examine how “volunteer” and “amateur” writers and editors can provide a reliable “free” online encyclopedia (which does not allow advertising but which does ask for contributions An important concept in Wikipedia is “notability”: how does one properly get a page created to make oneself known.

Other competing “compendiums” were proposed, which would require more peer review before publishing. Encyclopedia companies had to fight back.

In parallel came the development of “open source” software, even including the browser Mozilla.

Part 8

The most “publicized” controversy in the “free content” area would occur with what we call “open access”   This development focused mainly on peer-reviewed science and medical (and sometimes social science) journals, compared to the amateur, non peer-reviewed content covered so far.

The most famous case, of course, is the tragic history of Aaron Swartz (the film “The Internet’s Own Boy”). Aaron’s “career” had started with an attempt to make PACER court documents, which arguably should be free and public domain anyway,, but then exploded when he downloaded illegally some JSTOR server documents.

Science journals were built around a business model of high subscription prices. It has gotten to the point that university libraries can’t afford all of them. Recently, some government agencies, like NIH, have enforced agreements requiring release of peer-reviewed papers to public domain after about one year. It’s unclear if this would continue under Trump.   Likewise, some foundations (as with Bill Gates) require open access.

Younger scientists need access to peer reviewed science documents. Jack Andraka, who developed an inexpensive pancreatic cancer blood marker test for a science fair, has written about the problem. Although he could arguably have gotten a subscription through a university (like Maryland), he argues there is a catch 22: he could not have gotten far enough in his early research to convince a university to give him one, without open access.

Overseas, Alexandra Elbakyan (from Kazakhstan) would start “Sci-Hub”, as a compendium of papers, and attract litigation.

I’ve covered the Open Acesss issue on a legacy blog here.  See especially April 2, 2015 (Jack’s toga Ted talk),   Here’s another account of Jack’s arguments.

Does the “Tragedy of the Commons” apply to Open Access? Not really.

Part 9

Another controversy in the “free content” area is the hard times that newspapers have find competing online, especially keeping print profitable   Paywalls are conceptually the same devices that science journals use, but for ordinary news content are normally much cheaper.

Many newspapers have gone to paywalls for their online subscriptions, and this idea is catching on with more local papers, which would make local news harder to get. However broadcast networks and news sites have generally remained free and depending on advertising.

Over time, consumers have often become irritated at online advertising, and have installed “do not track” tools, which often come free by default with modern browsers. Many consumers click less often on ads than they used to, which would make one wonder about the ad-based business model (derived from broadcast network television) which made so much free content – most of all user-generated content — possible.

Part 10

Still another controversy has played out more in Europe than in the U.S. – “the right to be forgotten”. Since news stories about obscure people remain indexed online, people have claimed the right to demand that search engines remove these references after a certain amount of time, to avoid trivial small incidents from affecting their lives.

The “right to be forgotten” goes in hand with another concept called “online reputation”, which started to become trendy around 2006, with companies (like Reputation.com) offering to help people maintain their online impressions.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

Kristin Beck (Lady Valor) speaks at AGLA Christmas Party

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Kristin Beck (author of “Warrior Princess” and subject of the CNN film “Lady Valor”) spoke tonight at the Christmas party for the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance. I see that I have footage from her speaking to AGLA at the Arlington VA library Nov. 25, 2014, too.

Here are the clips. I have to admit my attempt to wide-screen them on the cell phone backfired. Later I’ll figure out how to rotate them in the embed statement. For now, just play in YouTube and rotate the smartphone 90 degrees/

1 (Introduction)

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(Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 at 9:30 PM EST)

A Capitol Fourth, 2016: Clips, with some surprising political retrospect

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It started with a chain dance, not exactly a Virginia Reel from the old days of straight singles clubs.  Before, a couple of brothers played a game of mistaken identity on Capitol Hill.

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Then Colin Powell gave a speech appealing for the USO, which entertains troops, often at some sacrifice by performers.  Now the USO comes up in the 1999 film “Southpark” when “Big Gay Al” mentions it (before blaming Canada);  he made an allusion to my book and the military DADT at the time.  In fact, Powell, as Chariman JCS, first opposed President Clinton’s 1993 plan to lift the military ban on gays, but gradually accepted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” which Clinton announced July 19 that year at Ft. McNair.

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Besides the closing of the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, the National Symphony played the “Liberty Fanfare” by John Williams:  Two brief clips (the second is the ending)

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(Posted: Monday, July 4, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

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Also: Fort McNair in Washington DC (site of Clinton’s DADTDP speech)

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Clips of QA from Cato Institute forum on ISIS

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On Wednesday, May 18, I attended an event at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, “Is ISIS Economically and Socially Stable?  Speakers included Howard J. Schatz and Jacob Shapiro.  This does sound like an understated title for a foreign policy forum.

I have a writeup on Blogger here   but I wanted to share a few brief clips (max length 95 seconds) of the Question and Answer section. I’ll embed the two most important.

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Clip 4

Clip 5

Clip 6 makes the libertarian case that if a radical or violent or authoritarian movement fails suddenly or catastrophically on its own (like the Soviet Union) then others will be deterred from trying the same experiment in the future

Clip 7 answers my own question about homeland security.

Clip 8

Clip 9

Clip 10

(Published: Friday, May 20, 2016 at 11:30 AM EDT)

Three films about nuclear Armageddon from the 80s

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A few films in the 1980s, the Reagan years, do recall the horror we used to feel at nuclear war.

In November  1983, ABC aired a two-part “The Day After” on a Sunday and Monday night. It was directed by Nicholas Meyer and written by Edward Hume.

The US has maintained an underground SAC base near Lawrence, Kansas and the University of Kansas (where I went to graduate school).  After international tensions, the US launches them within sight og the campus, and the Soviets nuke Kansas City.  People are shown turning to skeletons in the blast downtown, as the first part ends.  In the second half, people search through rubble. Jason Robards, JoeBeth Wiliams, and John Lithgow star.

People were told not to watch this alone.  I watched in my apartment in Harvey’s Raquet in Dallas with a medical resident next door I had befriended.  He had gotten used to treating PWA’s already.

 

Another film in 1983 was “Testament”, directed by Lynne Litman (Paramount).  A mom (Jane Alexander) in a suburb in Marin County and her kids learn that San Francisco has been nuked from an emergency news broadcast, and they await the end of their lives from radiation sickness.  (It’s a little hard to believe the broadcast could have gone off in the first place.) The film is available to rent on Amazon.

 

In 1982, NBC aired a 3-hour, 2-part “World War III”, by David Greene and Boris Sagal, written by Robert L. Joseph.   In retaliation for a grain embargo, the Soviets attack the US oil pipeline in Alaska.  This was a big deal in the years after the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973.  Rock Hudson, to die of AIDS five years later, plays the president.

(Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 1:30 PM EDT)

“Full Metal Jacket” (1987) somewhat captures the world of Vietnam-era mandatory military service

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There have not been many films that really present the Vietnam era military draft, with the controversial student deferment system (and subsequent lottery), but one that comes somewhat close is Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket“, from Warner Brothers. As I recall, I saw this film at Northpark in Dallas shortly after release. The large film is based on Gustav Hasford’s novel “The Short-Timers” (1979).

The plot is in two parts.  The first section deals with basic training in the Marine Corps in 1967.  (It was possible to be drafted into the Marines at times, but not on the day in February 1968 when I was inducted.) There are three main characters:  The misfit Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio),  Joker (Michale Moldine), and Sgt. Hartmen (R. Lee Emrey), and some others such as Cowboy (Arliss Howard), Sgt. “Animal Mother” (Adam Baldwin) and Eightball (Dorian Harewood).

Pyle’s problems would have put him in Special Training Company in the environment I experienced at Fort Jackson in 1968, but they come to a head at the end of part 1 when he commits suicide (after shooting Hartmann).

Joker gets journalism as an MOS, and that does sound like an odd idea for a military occupational specialty — given today’s ideas about journalistic objectivity. Most of the other grunts get infantry (as had Pyle).  The second half of the film happens in Vietnam and covers the Tet Offensive, which had been launched Jan. 30, 1968, just before I went into the Army myself.

(Published Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT)

 

WJLA7 News Channel 8 offers “Fight for Freedom” Town Hall regarding “chilling effects” on journalism from radical Islam, North Korea, and other foreign interests

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On Monday, February 9, 2015 I sat in the studio audience on the Second Floor at WJLA TV (7), in Arlington VA, for a special debate on News Channel 8 at 7 PM EST (one hour), “Town Hall: Fight for Freedom: Your Voice, Your Future” .  Sometimes WJLA refers to this program in a different word order “Your Voice, Your Future: Fight for Freedom”.

The four panelists were Frank Gaffney from the Center for Security Policy, Clifford May from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jane Hall, Professor of Communications (Journalism) at American University in Washington DC, Faheem Younus (“Muslimerican”) and remotely, Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA).  Jeff Barnum moderated, and Scott Thuman managed the external stories and questions from social media.

WJLA offers a complete 58-minute video here.  I’m “in the movie” as the old man in the middle on the second row.

I made six small excerpts.

Clip 1

Clip 2  will be shown as an embed.  There was a stirring comment about how author Salman Rushdie (“Satanic Verses”) was told he was “in trouble”.

Clip 3

Clip 4

Clip 5

Clip 6

(Posted Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 2 PM EST.)

Former Navy Seal Kristin Beck talks about her experience as trangender; she has a book and a film on CNN

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I wanted to provide three clips of the speaking engagement of former Navy Seal Kristin Beck at the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance potluck on Nov. 23, at the Arlington County (VA) central library.

Kristin (note the spelling) was the subject of the CNN film “Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story” and her own book “Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy Seal’s Journey to Coming Out Transgender

Clip 1 (She talks about Seal training)

Clip 2 (she talks about Alan Turing)

Clip 3

(Published Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014 at 12:30 PM EST.)

Recalling “Brokeback Mountain” and its story concept

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I saw the epic gay romantic film “Brokeback Mountain“, directed by Ang Lee and from Universal/Focus Features, in December 2005, before a sold-out crowd at the Landmark Bethesda Row (MD).  I still recall the experience.


The film presents two cowhands, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal)  and Ennis (Heath Ledger) as developing a romantic relationship, after some initial roughness, while working on sheep ranches in the Wyoming high country, in an environment where men have their own horses and bedrolls.  I remember the line “I wish I could quit you.”  The two men then separate and marry, and cross paths again at various times, as their marriages deteriorate.  Wikipedia gives the plot details.

In my novel “Angel’s Brother”, Randy (about 40, married with family) and Sal (a college student, near graduation and a supposed military intelligence career) develop a relationship in the course of “work”, in different ways, for the intelligence community, related to a biological (as it seems at first) threat that might come from Russia, from Islamists (not emphasized much) or from “aliens” (the most interesting possibility).  Randy’s wife is a health care professional also working on the threat from the CDC angle.  As the story progresses, the marriage weakens (because of the new gay relationship) but Randy actually grows closer to his oldest son as an adoptive father, but less so with his two subsequent biological children. But in time, it becomes apparent that not everyone will land from the global threat intact, but some people will actually be better off.  That’s sort of how it is with a “rapture”.  It doesn’t love everybody.

(Published “Friday Night” Nov. 21, 2014 (Sat AM) at 12:30 AM EST.)

Picture is in CA, near Mammoth Lake and US 395, Tioga Pass, 9500 feet (not Wyoming).