Sunday, November 26, 2006

Defamation In The Blogosphere

Last week, the California Supreme Court came out with a ruling that will definitely be added to the scanty jurisprudence that applies to the fledgling medium we call the blogosphere. In a landmark decision on the Barrett v. Rosenthal case, the high court ruled that internet users who post (to websites and discussion groups) material created by others are immune from liability.

To translate loosely to possible scenarios in the blogosphere, blog owners (or publishers), for examples, are not liable for items posted in their blogs’ comments sections. Nor are commenters themselves liable for quoted excerpts from other sources, unless the commenter himself is actively involved in creating the original written piece.

Gleaning from the few reactions from the blogosphere, they appear to be mixed, some favoring the decision while another side frowns on its possible unintended repercussions. The decision appears to be making a clear delineation between traditional media and the new media with the latter represented largely by the blogosphere; and what appears to be with the latter being favored with a more watered-down application of the laws of libel. That is, journalists in traditional media (or MSM) are being held to higher standards as compared to their step cousins in the blogosphere.

Maybe a little backgrounder may help in plumbing the profundity and cultivate a deferential appreciation of the legal facets that all interplay in this latest decision.

A quick visit to this site will provide a primer of basic facts in the understanding of defamation as it applies to the blogosphere.

A basic fact to remember is that slander is spoken defamation, while libel is written defamation, the latter applying to bloggers and commenters in blogs.

Here we speak strictly about what is legal or not, with no references as to whether adjudicated written material contribute to civility in public discourse or promote charitable interaction in the polity.

Thus, of curious interest to bloggers may be some leading examples in California jurisprudence regarding what would be considered libelous or not:

The following are a couple of examples from California cases; note the law may vary from state to state.

Libelous (when false):

• Charging someone with being a communist (in 1959)
• Calling an attorney a "crook"
• Describing a woman as a call girl
• Accusing a minister of unethical conduct
• Accusing a father of violating the confidence of son

Not-libelous:

• Calling a political foe a "thief" and "liar" in chance encounter (because hyperbole in context)
• Calling a TV show participant a "local loser," "chicken butt" and "big skank"
• Calling someone a "bitch" or a "son of a bitch"
• Changing product code name from "Carl Sagan" to "Butt Head Astronomer"


Lastly, note also that public figures are held to different standards from your typical folks where libel is concerned.

A public figure must show "actual malice" — that you published with either knowledge of falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth. This is a difficult standard for a plaintiff to meet.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Songs Tag

Got tagged in a musical way over at Tubby’s Comments. And am honestly quite clueless about this business of tagging, so am taking the safe route and just playing it by ear by copying the format.

Click to read more.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Day In The Life: US Election Day

Voters' Precinct
A Chronology:

November 6th, Monday 11 a.m.

Had a bit of dilemma about the Election Day scheduled tomorrow. Since I had moved to another city in another county and had not transferred my voter’s registration, I will have to drive 70 miles in order to vote.

So decided with the wife to drive to Daly City, San Mateo County, a day earlier so as to have time to vote the following day. And since we had some other businesses to transact, this was the best thing to do.

Drove the truck and got to Daly City at past noon. Got to the old house that we are trying to sell and started to settle in, with the barest of amenities since we have already moved our stuff out of the house that is now at escrow.

However, we weren’t prepared for the phone call of the real estate agent basically telling us that there is a material hitch in the sale – the prospective buyers are not amenable to the monthly amortization quoted them by their bankers. So things are on hold.

Anyway, did not allow this to faze me, so proceeded with the intended chores that I knew awaited me – trim the yards since we had not been to the house for over a month.

With nothing much to do in an empty house except for the basic appliances, focused on getting some sleep early.

November 7th 8 a.m.
Walked to our voting precinct, situated in a nice park and nestled close to a little hill. (Pictured above). Were gaily welcomed by the poll watchers, composed entirely of minorities – an African-American, A FilAm lady, a Sino-American lady, and a couple of Hispanic Americans scattered in what looked like the main meeting room of the park clubhouse. A quite typical setting in this part of California.

While we have voted for countless number of times on the same precinct number, this time the wife’s name was missing. Funny because she is the one who was born and registered a US citizen. And the poll watchers could not explain why. Just remember that these poll watchers are paid volunteers, who come in only during election time and maybe, a little time for training. Anyway, that was easily solved because she was handed a provisional ballot.

For the first time, we were asked whether we wanted to vote electronically or by paper ballot. But there was only one electronic machine and though it was early and voters were just starting to trickle in, we did not want to be delayed. We decided on the usual paper ballot which when completed is fed into an electronic sensing machine.

Since we carried with us our thick 191 page General Election booklet issued by the California Secretary of State and the accompanying Sample Ballot booklet of 20 pages, the ensuing voting was easy and quick, aided by the sample ballot already marked.

This time around the sample ballot looking much like the actual ballot was four pages long, with each the size of two bond papers joined together. This was only a state-wide election, but the many propositions sure added more heft to the ballot.

November 7th, 1 p.m.
Started the drive back to our new place hearing not much radio coverage of the elections, which campaigns have been very hotly debated and contentious over the last several months.

But then remember most precincts nationwide do not close till 8 p.m. Except that while it may be 8 p.m. in the east coast, it would still be 5 p.m. in the west coast.

So got home and attended to usual chores attendant to taking any trip that far and long. Even had time to put on the old sneakers and sweat pants for a quick jog around the park quite visible from the house.

It is now November 7th, 9:21 p.m. and so this would technically be live-blogging.

Voting has now finished in all of continental USA. I still have to hear from TV or radio about far-flung Hawaii.

Anyway, as expected the Republican-dominated Congress is slowly changing composition with Republicans losing seats. But as it stands as of this minute, the Republicans still have to lose 3 seats in the Senate to give away control. However in the House, the Democrats are already enjoying a 6-seat margin.

But there are still many races to be tallied. Remember in the west coast, the election ended only about an hour and ½ ago.

Update:

November 7th 9:45 p.m.

It looks like even this early, barely an hour and 40 minutes after the polls have closed, Arnie the governator of California has clinched his re-election. A strange combination this Arnie, registered a Republican but with a Kennedy-Shriver wife which can't get any more Democratic than that.

But the fight to watch is still that in Virginia were both candidates are literally running neck-to-neck. This is between Republican George Allen, once projected as presidential timber, and Democrat James Webb, one time Navy Secretary.

November 7th, 10:38 p.m.
It looks like a couple of Senate contests are too close to call, eventhough for at least one race initial count has completed. Two issues may come into play. One is that if the margin is very little, the losing side has recourse to an automatic recount of all votes. And the second is that the absentee ballots will have to be manually counted. And in some states, it is reported that absentee ballots are counted a day or two after election day.

But overall, Democrats still have the opening to wrest control of the Senate, too. After all, right now they need only 3 seats to get it and at least two races are leaning either way.

November 8th, 7:57 a.m.
The Republicans continue to hold control of the Senate but their control may end if the two contested races fall toward the Democrats. Even this late, the Missouri race is still up in the air with the Republican candidate (Talent)holding a lead of a couple of thousand votes; while the Virginia race has the Democrat leading but will surely be contested. And the history of recounts has shown that rarely has the count been overturned. Whatever the result of the recount, the presidential aspirations of Virginia's George Allen has been dashed to pieces.

One harangued Democratic timber who surely is sighing in relief is Sen. John F. Kerry, since many had predicted that his most recent "botched joke" gaffe could derail the expected Democratic landslide in Congress.

Last Update:

November 9th 8:25 a.m.
Putting an end to this account, NBC has announced that the Virginia Senate seat goes to Democrat James Webb, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats. But I still have to hear if defeated candidate, George Allen, has given his concession speech.

Earlier yesterday, Pres. Bush punctuated the proceedings by formally announcing the resignation of Defense chief Rumsfield. Noticed that during the almost hour long TV appearance, the Prez appeared quite animated, and surprisingly, very self-confident.

Thus, Election 2006 is now part of history, specifically that history of the 6th year of a sitting president mid-term elections where since post-war, the incumbent's party has always lost considerable seats in Congress. Is this worse than the past? Let the punditry roll.

Ironic that this late, I still do not know the fate of the local officials that I voted for, being many miles away. Specifically the FilAms who I voted for.

Lawyer and former Mayor Mike Guingona, who has now become more publicly visible with his appearances as host on the Filipino Channel, was seeking re-election to his Daly City council seat.

Together with a FilAm lady named Anette Hipona who was seeking a first term. Now, what could be more Filipino than that last name?

And lastly, well-credentialed Anthony Fel Amistad, who was seeking a county seat. I believe his second run for it having failed the last time.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Of Sex, Wealth, and Imperialism

jihadists_rally
Graphics Credit
Are these the Delphic reasons that will usher in an impending demise of western civilization?

Might be. But not necessarily because western civilization suffers from the above shortcomings.

What about reasons to explain the seeming unexplainable irrationality of fundamentalist Muslim extremism, inextricably unique and laden with the signature traits of its ever-abundant cadre of suicide bombers?

One former fundamentalist Muslim extremist believes so.

His name is Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a former disciple of Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, the bearded jihadi who appears in Bin Laden's videos.

His critical pronouncements may not be novel to many, nor far from the thinking of those who eruditely study Middle Eastern affairs.

But we are hopelessly predisposed to giving more credence and creditability to statements if they originate from the “horse’s mouth” so to speak.

Thus, with regard to the Sex angle, first.

Dr. Hamid takes pain to dissect a core difference between Sunnis and Shiites in this particular regard. Sunnis are typically the suicide bombers and not Shiites, though admitting that both are predisposed to gratuitous violence and mayhem. The reason given is that Sunnis are essentially sexually repressed and frustrated individuals in their lives, credit that to very strict religious precepts taught from very early on. Thus, the negotiated promise of a certain number of virgins and consequent heavenly sexual gratification in exchange for martyrdom is one deal very hard for them to refuse. Shiites suffer from no such repression. After all in their culture they are allowed “temporary marriages” lasting from an hour to past 95 years. Ample enough opportunities for release of sexual frustrations.

Now on to Wealth.

We can forget about the argument that these suicide-prone extremists are so because of ignorance and poverty. Here is the lowdown, “most of those who do the killing are wealthy, privileged, educated and free” Of course, there are countless of the poor and needy who are also so predisposed, but many are passively predisposed.

So why are the wealthy so predisposed? Well, comes the next angle.

Imperialism.

Dr. Hamid intones, as clear and simple as it gets:

"..the deliberate and determined expansion of militant Islam and its attempt to triumph not only in the Islamic world but in Europe and North America. Pure ideology. Muslim terrorists kill and slaughter not because of what they experience but because of what they believe."

They do it because they strongly believe so. This with their other messianic “voices in their mind”. Like that the rich oil fields of Saudi Arabia were destined by Allah to be the prophetic instrument for Islam world domination. The resurgence of the caliphate from a distant era. Or the apocalyptic prophesy that the current Iranian president is reported to be seriously engrossed in – the expected re-incarnation of a numbered grand imam?

The West better get up to par on this, and quickly. Or it may be too late. Remember these are not just faddish and whimsical preoccupations.

These people truly believe that it is their way, or no way.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Body Language In The Electronic Media

Body language is a broad term for forms of communication using body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. It forms part of the category of paralanguage, which describes all forms of human communication that are not verbal language. This includes the most subtle of movements that many people are not aware of, including winking and slight movement of the eyebrows.

Paralanguage, including body language, has been extensively studied in social psychology. In everyday speech and popular psychology, the term is most often applied to body language that is considered involuntary, even though the distinction between voluntary and involuntary body language is often controversial. For example, a smile may be produced either consciously or unconsciously. (From Wikipedia)

The other night, Bill O’Reilly had an interesting segment in his hour-long program, O’Reilly Factor, about body language. He had a resource expert, a young personable lady, interpret the body language exhibited by four very public personalities who figured separately in TV appearances with the unabashedly self-confident O’Reilly. These were President Bush, Sen. John Kerry, Oprah, and David Letterman. Oprah and Letterman had the tables turned, they were interviewing O’Reilly, if such is possible given the latter’s very assertive manner in those one-on-ones.

Personally, I snickered a bit during the lady’s serious presentation, not because I had doubts that body language can be discerned and interpreted beyond the measured words that the speakers were expressing during their TV appearances. It just feels too uncomfortable listening to a rather young woman, with college just a few years behind her, passing critical judgments on the physical mannerisms of these experienced and public-scrutiny-hardened older personalities.

Per Wikipedia definition above, arguably body language does reveal a lot about the speakers beyond what they have planned or rehearsed to express publicly. And I am surmising that the art of studying body language draws pretty much from the same justifications that a lie detector test banks its findings on. A peep into the unconscious and unrehearsed mannerisms a speaker may uncontrollingly exhibit, both outwardly and inside their bodies.

And by and large, I am sure we can agree that we do typically factor in body language in making overall judgments about statements of speakers. And at times, how we interpret statements may be guided more by body language than the words actually expressed

It has been brought out by some blogs that with regard to the now infamous statement of Sen. John F. Kerry, the not too subtle trace of a smirk after the sentence may have exacerbated rather than mitigated the claimed “botched” joke.

It may also be worthwhile to note that prior to oral speech, many scientists agree that man first communicated with body movements and gestures. Thus, the now universally accepted wave of the right hand to acknowledge people was not always so. It is claimed that when early man chanced upon another man on any path, the raising of an empty right hand was a generally accepted warning to the other that one is unarmed and does not have any hostile intention toward the other, rather than as a friendly wave of Hi or How Are You.

In fine then, going hand in hand with man’s personal and face-to-face interaction with his fellowman, body language has been a quite reliable tool to impart the speaker’s inner motives and attitudes beyond the words that he articulates to impart his message. And as a species, we are the better for this. No doubt, many a violent confrontation or serious misunderstanding may have been averted because of this effective communication combination. Body language, which reveals more of the speaker’s true state of mind and intentions may have at countless times emerged to the rescue to save the day.

But we have now entered into another medium of communications, where body language may not be able to come into play. Electronic communications do not now allow face-to-face confrontation in our many everyday interaction. It may even be worse than the use of the telephone where at least the tone of voice is decidedly part of body language, too.

But it appears that the only body language available under our new context is the body of the messages we are sending out, be they emails, blog posts, online chats, and commentaries.

So what are the evidently patent ramifications?

Absent traceable and detectable body language, how do we fare in our current interactions with others in the new medium?

As always technology has tried and continues try to help us keep pace. Thus, for one, we have those little tiny icons called Emoticons that can be liberally used and spread to decorate and enliven our text messages and express somewhat a snippet of the mood of the sender. But usage is still very limited and serious electronic communicators may not be too inclined toward something still considered quite fluffy, or flippant.

And the common text additives, like HaHaHa, or HeHeHe, , or even HEH may have countless times served to diffuse what could otherwise turn into an unfriendly situation.

The obvious area of concern is how our messages are coming across, influenced as they are by the writer’s style of writing, his facile command of grammar or its absence, and of course, his mood at the time of writing; and greatly influenced also by innate reservations, inhibitions, and even fears one may have toward his intended reader or readers.

But what may be undeniable is that communicators in this electronic medium will now have to exercise greater diligence and circumspection in delivering their messages. And as we are often times cautioned, let us not be too quick to hit that send button. Type, edit and reread, and think twice before sending. Or maybe even have another if one is around proofread the message to be sent. Remember this time body language may not be around to save the day for us. Once sent, it cannot be retrieved or undone.

Two new factors also figure in the quality of the messages being sent. These are the remote distance between addressee and recipient, even though as in instant messaging, the conversation may be carried on real time much like a face-to-face conversation. And the other is the anonymity offered by the new medium to both addressee and recipient of messages/conversations.

I learned from personal experience about this too sadly, in spite of due diligence and extra caution. We cannot be always a 100 percent sure or right. At times our physical condition or moods at the time of writing may make slip-ups easier to make and harder to detect.

Thus it might also be a greater part of discretion, to be prepared and expectant of the need to offer well-rehearsed and well-intentioned apologies should we later on discover or be brought to our attention that we have crossed the bounds of propriety, or decency, or simply, good discretion.

After all, to err is still human.

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