Thursday, February 28, 2013

Catholic University professor offers major piece on capitalism and inequality

It is a bit gratuitous to review a long journal article as a “book”, but there is a substantial piece by Jerry Z. Muller in the March/April 2013 issue of “Foreign Affairs” titled “Capitalism and Inequality”, starting on p. 30. The basic link is here
Muller points out that the belligerent attitude of the far right to using taxes to pay for a social safety net can be downright dangerous for stability and sustainability of capitalism.  On the other hand, he believes that the left should relinquish its idea of victimization and by trying to bypass ideals of individual merit. 

Muller points out that in early human history, most immediate needs were met at home outside the market economy, and that the expressive freedom of people was limited by religious or familial (or perhaps feudal) institutions that demanded loyalty of the individual to ensure stability.

A market economy allows individuals to specialize and avoid engagement in activities in which they are weaker and emphasize their strengths.  But this does not happen without the social development that normally must occur in the family.  Muller spends some space tracing how the relationships between family, gender, and the workplace changed over time with technological revolution. 

Muller does not take the role of family as far as he could, instead, toward the end of the essay, talking about the proper perspective on the public safety net and on programs to try to develop human capital, which may be less successful in the future than they used to be.
I do think that social stability does have some relationship to the idea of an individual social contract, the idea that any person should achieve a certain level of functionality in the ability to relate to and help others outside a direct economic interest.  Much of this expectation would relate to taking care of other generations, and that isn’t limited just to the choice to have or not have children.  But any society has, just as a matter of logic, to decide what to do when some members don’t do certain things as well as normally expected.  Value of human life and human rights requires respect for that person’s potential, but it has a “pay if forward” component, in that the person (given some slack) in term becomes more generous to others.  If that ethic is expected of everyone, there is less incentive for corruption in leadership at the top.  Yet, there is also something about character here:  it’s not good if people say, “I can do the right thing only if I think others will”, but that seems how things really work.
Although Muller doesn’t mention gay rights, it’s clear that the gay community can become a target of such discussions, because gay people usually are less likely to have their own children or (perhaps) conform to cultural gender expectations as to how everyone “pitches in”.  There is an issue of freedom, and yet sometimes freedom is used to make (narcissistic)  choices that don’t advance stability and prosperity for others – and then we realize that this problem is already quite familiar in the conventional heterosexual world already.
I can remember, during my own coming of age, a certain almost violent repudiation of the “idea” of capitalism by some members of the far left.  At a personal level, as to the appropriate use of personal expression and choice, the Left can be more moralistic than the Right. 
Muller is s professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.  Perhaps this article is a fitting read on the Pope's last day in power.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mike Young's "Internet Laws": a useful handbook and guide for Internet business entrepreneurs

Author: Mike Young, Esq.

Title: “Internet Laws: How to Protect Your Business Website Without a Lawyer

Publication: Dallas: Internet Attorneys Media,  2011, ISBN 978-1460942093, 190 pages, paper, 28 chapters, indexed.

Amazon link for purchase. 

.The first observation to make about this guide is that it is intended mainly for people who really want to run a for-profit web or Internet business.  It isn’t primarily intended to address self-publishing, or even the running of discussion forums or blogs with multiple contributors, with perhaps only nominal advertising revenue. (That really is my own background.)  It’s more about sales on the Internet.
Young starts out with the basics, particularly discussing the business format that one should set up.  Avoid proprietorships (sole or general) and consider Chapter S or limited liability corporations . He discusses the tax implications and legal liability shield aspects for these arrangements in some detail.  Setting up the right structure may be one of the most important decisions an Internet entrepreneur can make.
Another big basic piece of advice that occurs much later, is to keep very careful business  records and pay attention to your own local government and state’s business, sales, and income tax laws.  Internet taxation is tricky, to the chagrin of some people who want to be Amazon affiliates in some states.
Most of the chapters of the book are short, but in many of them Young reveals the dangers that can lurk for the unwary entrepreneur.  One of the most dangerous possibilities is to be accused of sending spam from your email server, if hacked.  Young recommends outsourcing email management to large hosting companies experienced in handling the security issues.
He does talk about domain names, and the increasing risk of unintentional trademark infringement. He recommends not using the same company to host the site as the domain name, although I have done so with no problems, and setup may be easier if you use just one company.

He does talk about patents, trademark and copyright in some generality, but I think he could have added some details about patent trolls and especially copyright trolls like Righthaven (although much of the activity in this area, documented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups like Ars Technica, has happened after the book was published).  
A number of the chapters in the book talk about “risky” website businesses, involving gambling, pornography, “getting something for nothing”, possibly illegal customers overseas (associated with drugs or terrorism).  He avoids any moralizing or pontification, and just states the “facts”,  I wasn't aware that search engines had been forced to remove links to some gambling sites.  He has a chapter on the privacy issues of setting up websites for children (COPPA), and with the laws on content that brushes against child pornography.  He mentions only very briefly the litigation (against the CDA and later COPA, to which I was a plaintiff personally) which has made most child-protective “censorship” unconstitutional.  The issues involving minors, despite favorable Supreme Court rulings, can become quite tricky, and I’ve discussed his material (since February 10, 2013) in more detail on another blog (trace through Blogger Profile here), “Some approaches to filtering or labeling Internet content”.  He does discuss adult identification verification (AVS), and a recent development in self-labeling technology, RTALabel.
He does cover the issue of product endorsement, and FTC rules for bloggers who get products to review.  In fact, I do get free DVD’s from some independent movie distributors to review on my Movie Reviews blog, and I do follow the FTC requirement and mention that I got a review copy.  Once, I got a “short film” DVD from an oil company!  One question I wonder about movie and book reviews (for fiction).  Could premature spoilers cause a legal problem? 
He does talk about downstream liability, particularly with respect to requirements of DMCA Safe Harbor, if a webmaster who services publication by others gets a copyright infringement complaint.  But I don’t see any mention of the Section 230 provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (better known as the Communications Decency Act).  These provisions, controversial in the child protection community, generally do shield blogging service providers and Internet hosting companies from civil liability (like for libel) for what users post.  But CSA230 also protects forums from liability from what users post, and bloggers from comments (even when some moderation of content is done, within certain limits).
He also warns about the practical risks of what we sometimes call ‘negligent publication” or of accidental invasions of privacy (false light) or unintentional indirect libel.  For example, someone giving instructions as to how to rape or build a weapon might get sued by a victim of an actual crime following the recipe.  (Where does “personal responsibility” for the acts of others end in the law?  That sounds like the gun control debate today.)  For another example, a fictitious story with a character that clearly resembles a real person and presents the person falsely in an unfavorable way could still lead to libel.  There is a case (which he doesn’t name) in California, Bindrim v. Miller (1979) that establishes this idea, although it hasn’t always held in other states (like New York).  Even fictive “self-libel”, for purposes of demonstration, can lead to trouble, as I found out when I worked as a substitute teacher (the “BillBoushka” blog, July 27, 2007).  I ran into school officials who wanted to make an existential matter of my ultimate “motives” (leading to an obscure are that we call “implicit content”).

He does talk about online reputation and what to do about customer smearing on review sites, and briefly covers how social media can affect online reputation. He does not recommend "gag order" contracts with customers, which some medical professionals try to implement. 
I want to note that the issue of photography of individuals in "public" places (like bars and discos) has suddenly become a sensitive matter, in practice if not yet in the law, and has gotten discussed on television (as on Anderson Cooper's show).  This has happened rather quickly, since the book was published in 2011.  I wonder what he would say about it.  
Young’s book is somewhat didactic in nature, advising the user to read the entire work cover to cover and giving a lot of “Mother May I baby steps” along the way.  He does mention the Internet Ethics Council (link ), and the Internet Attorneys Association (link ).

I want to note something else that the author mentions at the get-go, in his Introduction.  Anyone who tries to establish himself or herself on the Web does run a slight risk of becoming targeted by someone who is mentally ill or criminal, both physically and (more likely) in terms of cybercrime and Identity theft.  The possibility of being “framed” on the web by a virus for a crime (like child pornography), while usually remote, deserves attention.  There have been some prosecutions in this area, and apparently at least one wrongful conviction or confession in Arizona based on a 2006 case where the state tried to impose an “absolute liability” theory.  He could have gone into this in more detail. 

The YouTube video features the author in an interview with Open Source Marketer. 
I did want to add one more personal anecdote to this review.  Despite the fact that I named my first book in 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell….”, I used the acronym “” (as a short acronym for “High Productivity Publishing”) for my first website in 1997.  I set up a “Do Ask Do Tell” second site in 1999,  which I still have.  I got rid of “hppub” in the summer of 2005 and migrated all the material to “Do Ask Do Tell”.  I felt uncomfortable with a meaningless domain name which I might not justify forever.  Someone actually offered me money for it ($50) on Paypal in 2005, but I refused.  Soon, I saw that “hppub” was used for an offshore gambling site.  I had to make sure I fixed all my links quickly not to go there.  By around 2009 or so, the gambling site had gone away and now seemed to be some sort of mysterious site in Australia, which doesn’t work right now (the last time I checked). 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Chess openings: Two more books (Sicilian Sveshnikov and unusual Ruy Lopez lines)

Here are a couple more chess opening books.
Starting Out: Sicilian Sveshnikov”, by John Cox (Everyman Chess, 2007, ISBN 978-1857444315, 271 pages, paper) is a thorough survey of probably the most “controversial” Black system in the Sicilian Defense.  It has become “popular” particularly in the 21st Century. Old dogmatic ideas about positional weaknesses have given way to a more dynamic understanding of how chess really works in practice.  In this opening, Black gains some critical tempi for development at the expense of a “hole” on the “d5” square, and possibly a busted kingside.  In exchange, Black seems to get coordinated pieces, a mobile center, open lines (especially on the kingside around White’s king), sometimes the two bishops, or often opposite colored Kings’ bishops where Black’s is the more active.  Spectacular mating attacks, sometimes involving the bank rank, have occurred. 
Cox covers the more “amateurish” replies thoroughly for club play, and then goes into the critical lines (like the “Nivisibirsk” and the “Chelyabinsk”, with White’s spectacular piece sacrifice, where Black seems to be holding his own (although many critical lines end in draws or perpetuals) his King, appearing naked to a peeping Tom, is surprisingly hard for White to get at.

Cox gives many illustrations, clearly correlated to the variations, which makes the book easier to study without playing out every variation. 

One issue for Black would be White’s “anti-Sveshnikov” with “3 Nc3”.  It really seems to me that, objectively, Black’s life is difficult if he plays “3 ..e5”; if he delays one move with “3 …Nf6”, he may not have the best lines available to meet “4 Bb5”.  So Black can play “3 … g6”, but the proper way to avoid the Yugoslav needs more detailed explanation (I’m not sure the pawn sacrifice he gives is correct in that exact position). 
The second book  here is “Dangerous Weapons:  Ruy Lopez: Dazzle your Opponents”, also from Everyman Chess, by John Cox, John Emms, and Tony Kosten (2013, 978-1857446913, 300 pages, paper).  This book covers three less “accepted” defense for Black, and some ideas for white involving “d3”, including another anti-Marhsall.

The best Black defense presented here seems to be the Berlin Classical (Black plays  Nf6 and Bc5 without a6), which, despite its former reputation of being loose, seems to give Black straightforward piece play and counterattacking chances (appealing to “tactical” players) and allows White only a tiny edge with best play.  The lines here seem to blend a bit with the “modern Archangel” (which I wish the authors had covered with another explicit chapter, given the complexity of move order issues and the questions about the deployment of Black’s light-square Bishop, and the possibility of some major Black pawn sacrifices).  It’s easy for White to stumble (yes, to “patz”), and sometimes Black wins quickly in these lines, especially in club play. 
Another defense given is the Aronian (an early Nge7), which I personally think will have too much trouble with White ideas like “Bb3” and old fashioned fork threats.  (Isn’t that what King Pawn players want?)  

Still another is an “open Chigorin” in the Closed Defense, which looks interesting and makes a reasonably combative  alternative to Larry Kaufman’s recommendation of using the Breyer.  

Cox talks about the term "dangerous weapon" as a chess line that seems counter-intuitive and obscure and likely to surprise strong opponents.

Feb. 9

I lost with White to one of those "vicious mating attacks" by Black in the classical Kings Indian last night. Yup, I checked Kaufman and went wrong early, according to theory.  It's hard to remember all of this.  Despite its reputation at the highest levels of theory, the Kings Indian gives good practical chances in club play.  White has to be accurate.

I'm told that USCF ratings for older players are going down, because "the kids" are getting stronger playing computers and each other before entering general competition.  "1600" today is much better than it was in the 1960s.