Electronic Frontier Foundation has two major entries this morning on the issues of border searches of electronic or digital devices and asking for social media passwords.
Stephanie LaCambia has a lead article “The Bill of Rights at the Border“) on the problem from the viewpoint of the Fifth Amendment (regarding self-incrimination) here.
She continues with a more comprehensive article on the First Amendment issues. Here, she discusses anonymity as a part of free speech, and the importance of journalists protecting their sources. One of the indirect concerns would be the fact that border searches reveal “expressive associations” Of course, the government would come back and answer, what if that association involves ISIS?
Finally, she discusses Fourth Amendment concerns (illegal search and seizure) and the “default privacy rule” and “non routine” searches.
My understanding (from a recent meeting at DC Center Global) is that frequent business travelers even to Europe are being searched and that even US citizens (even native born) are sometimes searched. Even at the Canadian border there are issues for citizens.
Some people could find that lawful but culturally questionable searches (for example, about nudity or adult pornography) could raise serious questions. It’s possible that some searches or activity might be viewed as potentially unlawful out of context.
Also, personal friends (or their partners) have told me this, but some are beginning to consider citizenship as the easiest way to continue an international life based in the U.S.
Some in Congress do want to strengthen warrant requirements.
The New York Times has a front page story about social media perils with a blunt headline, “Video of killing casts Facebook in a harsh light”. (Maybe, in comparison to the tort manual, it’s a “false light”). The story, by Mike Isaac and Christopher Mele, has a more expansive title online, “A murder on Facebook provokes outrage and questions over responsibility.”
This refers to a recent brazen random shooting of a senior citizen in Cleveland Easter Sunday (on Facebook Live), but there have been a few other such incidents, including the gunning of two reporters on a Virginia television station during a broadcast in 2015, after which the perpetrator committed suicide. Facebook Live has also been used to record shooting by police, however (as in Minnesota).
The Wall Street Journal has a similar story today by Deep Seetharaman (“Murder forces scrutiny at Facebook”) and Variety includes a statement by Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s VP of global operations. Really, is it reasonable the AI or some other tool can detect violent activity being filmed prospectively?
At the outset, it’s pretty easy to ask why the assailants in these cases had weapons. Obviously, they should not have passed background checks – except that some may have had no previous records.
As the articles point out, sometimes the possibility of public spectacle plays into the hands of “religious enemies”, that is lone wolf actors motivated by radical Islam or other ideologies. But at a certain psychological level, religion is a secondary contributing factor. Persons who commit such acts publicly (or covertly) have found that this world if modernism, abstraction and personal responsibility makes no sense to them. So ungated social media may, in rare cases, provoke a “15 minutes of fame” motive along with a “nothing to lose” attitude (and maybe a belief in martyrdom). This syndrome seems very personal and usually goes beyond the portrayal of an authoritarian religious or political message.
It is easy, of course, to invoke a Cato-like statistical argument (which often applies to immigration). In a nation of over 300 million people (or a world of billions), instant communication will rarely, but perhaps predictably with some very low probability, provoke such incidents. You can make the same arguments about the mobility offered by driving cars.
Ungated user content offers new forms of journalism, personal expression and self-promotion, and new checks on political powers, but it comes with some risks, like fake news and crazy people seeking attention.
For me, the history is augmented by the observation that most of my own “self-promotion” came through search engines on flat sites, in the late 90s and early 00’s, before modern social media offered friending and news aggregation. As with an incident when I was substitute teaching in late 2005, the possibility of search engine discovery carried its own risks, leading to the development of the notion of “online reputation.”
Still, the development of user-generated content, that did not have to pay its own freight the way old fashioned print publications did in the pre-Internet days when the bottom line controlled what could be published, is remarkable in the moral dilemmas it can create.
It’s ironic. How social media allows us to experience being “alone together”, but makes up for it by encouraging individuals to ask for help online by crowdfunding the meeting of their own needs – something I am usually hesitant to jump into.
This is a good place to mention a new intrusion onto Section 230, a bill by Anne Wagner (R-MO), “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017”, partly in response to the Backpage controversy, congressional link here. No doubt discussion of this bill will cause more discussion of the expectations for proactive screening by social media.
There’s an additional note: the perpetrator of the Cleveland incident has ended his own life after police attempted to apprehend him (Cleveland Plain Dealer story).
We often hear the word “bigot” to characterize persons of public influence whom we want to go away or don’t want to have to pay heed to.
Wikipedia treats the concept of “bigotry” as pretty much synonymous with “prejudice”. But Merriam-Wesbter’s definition mentions intolerant or obstinate “devotion” to one’s own “opinions” and only then refers to the idea of prejudice against members of an identifiable group.
Typically, we’re used to thinking about “bigotry” more in terms of groups, particularly when we look at history. For the United States, the most glaring example comes with the racism that followed the ending of slavery and, almost a century later, segregation and the evolution of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. At the outset, bigotry by whites was first motivated by economic loss: “property”, ill-obtained, was going to be expropriated from them by force. This is the “Gone with the Wind” worldview of Reconstruction.
One problem was that it was possible to find “rationalization” for slavery or subordination of others int the Bible, with right away reminds us that you can justify almost anything with carefully framed “scripture” (Ephesians 6:5). The idea that information could be passed to the “ordinary people” from those in power (as propaganda) was part of the problem. Over time, people could use the Bible to maintain the convenient comfort and “security” of segregation, an idea my parents somewhat believed even though at the church I grew up in the 1950s (First Baptist of the City of Washington DC), Dr.Edward Pruden was one of the most progressive of the time (as in his 1951 Judson Press book “Interpreters Needed“). Huffington takes this up in a piece about Bob Jones University; also see Lewis).
The other great “group” marker for prejudice has been , of course, religion. Anti-Semitism in Europe leading to WWII and the Holocaust in part resulted from the idea that fascism could portray the Jews as “elitist” and against “the common people” or “folk” and could scapegoat them for the economic difficulties after WWI.
And anti-Islam sentiment has become the most obvious example of religious prejudice in the past decades, as a predictable result of terrorism. It’s clear that intolerant passages can be found in the scriptures of all religions (and get used by political demagogues), but the concentration of certain passages in the Koran does seem troubling.
And particularly with radical Islam, the focus on focus and violence seems to be related to the idea that modernism and individualism has created a world of abstraction and self-focus that doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, and that leaves a lot of “ordinary people” behind. But that attitude is often found in some evangelical Christianity.
History is typically concerned with “vertical” groups of people, classified by nationality, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and race. What’s more difficult is how any group deals with those in its midst who are “different”, especially with regards to gender expression and sexuality.
I’ve tended to regard affinity groups related to gender and sexuality issues as “horizontal”, as they are spread out among all vertical groups. It’s rather like comparing the sprawling office buildings over land plots in Washington to the skyscrapers in New York.
Furthermore, most of these horizontal groups are somewhat characterized by attitudes and behaviors, things that are partially chosen, even if underlying drives have biological (epigenetic or genetic) aspects. Typically people in horizontal groups are not noticed at first sight (so “do ask do tell”).
So this brings me back to “homophobia” or sometimes “transphobia”. I covered that on Jan. 4. Particularly significant is that many heterosexual men find the whole panoply of courtship, dating, marriage, and the same family bed for generations quite challenging, as is the economic burden. That’s easier for a lot of men to handle if they think all other men have to play the same cards.
But there’s also the need, as a gay midwestern district attorney pointed out to me, some people believe they need to feel superior to someone. One reason for “bigotry” is then the need to have people to boss over. Procreative potential for some men becomes a convenient proxy for superiority.
In fact, this brings me back to an element of my own therapy in those days of William and Mary and NIH (covered in my books), that in my own mind, I would tend to equate people’s visible trappings as a proxies for moral virtue. I like to see “perfect” men. I am uncomfortable with the idea of promoting gender fluidity. In practice, I generally just ignore it when I see it. You see things all the time you don’t necessary approve of, say little or nothing, and just move on. Isn’t that the “harmlessness” of libertarianism? But I have made myself visible on my own, indeed, self-promoted my own “opinions” without the supervision of gatekeepers. (Sustaining the capacity to do that can remain challenging). But these days I get challenged, that I am not willing to be more pro-active, to step up to actively promote those who have less privilege and more need. Sometimes (as with fluidity) it really is hard to tell what is “chosen” and what is immutable. But to do less, and still continue to be heard, is seen as bordering on bigotry, even from me.
Indeed, if you think about the most extreme acts of ISIS or some lone wolf terrorists, it seems as though they are making a public stir of what they personally see as non-virtuous. (You could get into a discussion of impulse control, too.)
You also wonder if unwillingness to consider dating someone (say trans) would be viewed by some people as bigoted. (An example is the episode “Lean In” in the ABC series “Mistresses”.)
But the fact that there are different forms of bigotry does not detract from a perpendicular thesis of mine, that “how you should behave if you think you’re different”, and whether “being different” implies “being special”, is a worthy topic on its own and has moral substance. It’s part of connecting the dots.
It’s also instructive to look up “bully” in the dictionary.
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillebrand, Robert Menendez, and Cory A. Booker write a dire warning in an op-ed on p. A29 of the New York Times on p. A29, Tuesday, April 11, 2017, “New York’s Transit Apocalypse”, titled more glaringly online. “Think New York Transit is bad? Just wait”.
We’ve been through that in the Washington DC area with numerous Safe Track (indeed a registered trademark) periods for various segments of the Metro syste,, and many breakdowns and delays. Late night service after midnight on weekends has stopped as of June 2016 (it may revert back to 1 AM), although so far Uber and Taxi’s seem to be getting people home (although not tipped and low-wage restaurant and bar employees). I for one wonder why Metro didn’t run “bus trains” along the same routes during the no-train periods to guarantee people some service.
New York faces a major repair on the Canarsie subway line starting in 2019, to Brooklyn, to repair damage from Sandy. But the article this morning notes that the Hudson river tunnels, for Amtrak and probably the Path, are deteriorating from Sandy-imposed damage and could fail within ten years.
So they call upon Donald Trump to honor his own self-interest (and that applies to Kushner too), to support the construction of new tunnels to make access to the City easier.
Some years ago, I never gave reliability of Amtrak a second thought. Now, I have to wonder, if I go up in the morning, will I get to a concert on time, or even use the hotel reservation. I’m on the hook for it myself, even though it’s someone else’s “fault”. (The May 2015 wreck in Philadelphia was a turning point.) And I’m the one with the lost opportunity to sell my own music or writing My own success depends on infrastructure, which depends on other people doing their jobs, and which also depends on national security (and preventing terror attacks). It’s personal.
I do fly much less often than I used to, even though I personally have very few canceled flghts in my history. It is simply becoming challenging to get there on time (with a guaranteed reservation) and not have electronics, needed on the road, damaged. If 9/11 had been prevented, it would be easier. But that sounds like part of the point; a lot of disenchanted men don’t want the rest of the world carry on a life of secular abstraction that humiliates them.
Indeed, do a lot of people I encounter who make a less commanding impression on me, achieve less in life because not only the social climate but bigger infrastructure failed them?
No one succeeds publicly at anything without a system in place that works, and without depending on others to deliver customer service. Of course, I became aware of this during my own coming of age, with the Arab oil embargo gas lines of the 1970s and the possible threat of total breakdown after “Ford to City: drop dead” in 1975.
It’s important to keep up with the outside world. Generally, throughout my adult life, I’ve often gotten feedback from some people who say they don’t need to get scary news from the political world from me (unless it’s about their own tiny bubble).
As I’ve noted here before, I don’t necessarily rush to elevate every victim in every marginalized group, including my own. I have to agree with Peter Thiel, speaking at the DNC, that LGBTQ people have more pressing issues that bathroom bills – although I have to say that North Carolina’s recent HB2 “repeal”, under pressure from the NBA, is a bit of “bait and switch”, even in the language of Barbara Ehrenreich. In fact, major league sports have recently become the :GBTQ community’s ally out of self-interest. Major League Baseball, for example, though it has very few if any openly gay players right now, knows it eventually will have them. It is quite credible, for example, to imagine a transgender person as a relief pitcher or “closer” for a pennant winning team. (And one wonders about big league sports and the rare cis females who happen to able to play.)
Over history, collective security for a country or a group is a big influence on respect for individual rights. Whatever our internal squabble, a common enemy or peril can force us to come together. We found that out suddenly after 9/11 (which I do think Al Gore would have prevented).
While Donald Trump has first stated that ISIS is our most dangerous enemy (because of its unusual asymmetry and targeting of civilians). Trump has gotten a rude awakening (“foreign policy by ‘Whiplash’”, complete with Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons) from Assad’s chemical attack on his own people this week, and may suddenly realize how dangerous it is to remain bedfellows with Vladimir Putin.
it’s quickly becoming apparent that our most existential threat may indeed come from North Korea (whom we got a rude shock from in cyberspace over the Seth Rogen and James Franco movie “The Interview”). This morning, on p. A14 of the Washington Post, Anna Fifled has a frightening and detailed article, “Does North Korea have a missile that can hit the U.S.? If not, it will”. Online the title is more blunt. “Will North Korea fire a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland? Probably.”
The article goes into the technical challenges of actually directing a nuclear warhead thousands of miles. But North Korea is making progress faster than we had thought.
The article does play down the satellite EMP risk discussed here earlier (March 6). There’s a valid question as to whether NORAD would find and intercept such a missile (My classified computer programming job in 1971-1972 in the Washington Navy Yard was about just such capability. ) Fifield notes that it may be harder for US spy satellites to spot the missiles as they become mobile on the ground. And a pre-emptive first strike against North Korea would invoke the obvious problem of making South Korea an instant target (as well as Japan). This is no time for the president of the United States to have an adversarial relationship with his own intelligence services.
It’s also a time to ponder national resilience again, at a personal level. I am not a member of the doomsday prepper crowd, although I have several Facebook friends who are. There is something reassuring about being able to take care of yourself (with guns, and your family (with firearms if necessary), and property, in a world suddenly radically changed by “Revolution”. I can see how some people (mostly on the far right, to be sure) see this as a component of personal morality.
There is some debate as to whether DPRK can threaten all of the US (by Great Circle routes) or “only” Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast. But imagine life with Silicon Valley and Tinseltown gone. (I’m reminded of the second “Red Dawn” film particularly, as well as “Testament“). After Hurricane Katrina (and just before Sandy) there was some discussion of “radical hospitality”, as to whether ordinary homeowners with some extra space should prepare themselves to house strangers after a catastrophe. The idea has obviously come up in Europe with the migrant crisis, less so in the US (but somewhat in Canada). As I’ve noted here before, the idea can be tested with asylum seekers (and it hasn’t gotten very far yet).
I’d mention here that a bill to require women to register for Selective Service has passed he Senate, quietly. A prepper friend posted this on Facebook.
Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Consider this recentpiece in the April 11, 2017 of Time Magazine about loose radiocactive waste in the former USSR and possible terrorist “dirty bombs”. Victims in an incident could be too “hot” to treat, and then there is real estate whose value goes to zero, a definite attack on the rentier class. Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative(with some recent articles about North Korea including charts and timetables) warned about all this in the 45-minute 2005 film “The Last Best Chance“.
While Donald Trump, with “America First”, seems eager to give fossil fuels a longer lease on life, at least to help out coal miners in his voter base, it seems that some smaller countries are doing well in going to nearly 100% renewable energy.
Here follows a guest post on the topic: It’s original title is “7 Countries that Said ‘Adios’ to Fossil Fuels & Run 100% on Clean Energy.” It is authored by “We Love Costa Rica”. I’ll add that Costa Rica was a popular destination by the Dallas Sierra Club when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s.
“You might not have heard of countries like Bonaire or Tokelau before. They are really small and they only have a few inhabitants. Despite this, they were able to do something many other major countries have not done – remove fossil fuels and be totally dependent on renewable energy sources.
“In a lot of countries, there are still debates going on regarding global warming and the real reason why it exists. For these small countries, it is no longer up for debate. They have done something to change their energy source to make it cleaner.
“”They know that when disaster strikes, they will be the biggest victims. They understand the impact of global warming as they are the first people to reap the damages if floods and typhoons become more violent than before.
“Bigger countries don’t care for now as they can’t feel the immediate impact. If they will see the heavier impacts of global warming, they will surely change their tone. Just look at China. They have allowed big manufacturing companies to take over and do whatever they want.
“As a result, there is rising level of pollution in major cities. They have decided to do something about it when the problem has gone out of control. In short, these smaller countries are wiser to not wait for the damages to happen before doing something.
“Get to know these countries more through the infographic below. It lists the countries that have succeeded in eliminating fossil fuels from their system.”
The United States Copyright Office is seeking comments on a proposal to expand the concept of “moral rights” to creators of content (usually literary works) in the United States, to make these rights follow a pattern more like those in Europe. The Federal Register explanation is here.
Moral rights typically mean first that authors have the right to expect to receive attribution when their work is used. For example, Wikipedia normally asks users to attribute authors of photos when using these photos under CCSA licenses. It even encourages citation of photo authors for public domain items.
The second right is more nebulous. It presumably “protects” content creators from misuse of their work in such a way as to distort the impression that the author wanted. For example, some songwriters or composers might not want their music to be mixed or re-adapted for disco-style parodies. But generally, US law allows this as long as the work is “transformative”. And the use of “transformation” is becoming more common anyway in the way that some classical music works are commissioned these days. Jonathan Biss recently commissioned five composers to develop derivate piano concerti from each of the five Beethoven piano concerti. It was common in the past for pianists to compose their own cadenzas to concerti, and Mozart even allowed pianists to develop the left hand part for most of his 26th piano concerto (the “Coronation”). Derivative works in the classical world these days often involve collaboration of multiple composers on one work.
But conceivably “moral rights” could be construed as allowing a content creator to allow his work to be reviewed even on certain kinds of politically adversarial websites, on a theory that such commentary misleads the public.
The moral rights controversy reminds me of an attempt, around the year 2000, of some companies to prevent deep links into their sites, as “misleading” or denying them revenue from having to go through a home page with its ads. But around 2001 courts rules that deep hyperlinks are nothing more than footnotes on a term paper (with “Ibid” and “op cit”).
Kerry Sheehan and Kit Walsh have a detailed article opposing the Copyright Office’s idea on the Electronic Frontier Foundation site, here.
In late March, the United States and then the UK instituted a ban on most electronics (larger than a smart phone) in the cabins of direct flights from a number of airports in the Middle East and Africa, largely Muslim countries. The UK list is slightly smaller than the US list. So far, other western countries have not yet followed suit.
NBC News produced a story by Harriet Baskas March 22 on how travelers were irked here. Obviously there could be issues about cancellations and trying to change to connecting flights in Europe. I’ll come back to that.
Firday, March 31, CNN produced (in a story by Evan Perez, Jodi Enda, and CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr) what it calls an exclusive story on the intelligence behind the travel ban. The claim is that associates of Al Qaeda, largely in enclaves in Yemen, have developed ways to hide plastic explosives inside laptops, possibly in a DVD bay, in such a way that laptops would still start if travelers are challenged at airports. There is concern that terrorists might have acquired prototype screening machines to test their devices. Presumably these devices can be detonated only manually. But theoretically, devices could be improvised that could be detonated by cell phones even if stored in cargo bays, if close enough to other similar devices.
DHS would obviously be concerned that terrorists could communicate in different parts of the world and spread this “expertise”. Through the dark web, such information might become available to disaffected “lone wolf” or small cell groups in the U.S.,
Confounding the logic of the ban is the recent concern over the safety of lithium batteries in cargo. A few older laptops from the middle 2000s have caught fire, at least when charging, as happened with some teens in California recently. But the concern for safely of lithium batteries in laptops is much less than for other devices, including some Samsung smart phones (some makes may not be brought onto planes) and hoverboards, which have caught fire in apartments and private homes while charging.
Also countermanding this picture are recent reports of research (as at Stanford) showing that aluminum based batteries may be safer than lithium and could be engineered to be acceptable replacements for many devices.
AC360, Anderson Cooper’s news analysis program, interviewed some experts on May 31, Saturday, April 1, 2017. CNN interviewed Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General for the US Department of Transportation. Later Robert Baer was interviewed. Most of these guests expressed the obvious view that the Mideast cabin laptop ban begs the question as to whether it will be expanded, and could eventually become routine, even on domestic US flights.
DHS says that it has multiple layers of security, which includes the latest screening machines. DHS apparently believed that airports in the affected countries did not have the same level of security.
Some observers have even claimed that the laptop bans were instituted out of Trump-style “protectionism”.
Business travelers generally need to carry their electronics with them and work on planes. Owners of small businesses also would need to, as would “professional” journalists.
The worst case scenario would be sudden bans of all electronics on flights, even though in the West hundreds of millions of people fly with no intention of harming others. This sounds like the “trojan horse” argument in the immigration debate, which Donald Trump has leveraged.
Tech companies could envisions solutions. Until now, the TSA has always told air travelers not to check laptops and tablets, possibly because of the lithium issue, but largely because the devices are likely to be damaged. It is possible to imagine sturdy (and explosion-proof) containers in which they could be packed, with the cases sold on Amazon or by stores like Best Buy. It is possible to imagine expedited services to ship electronics for longer trips by UPS or FedEx to airport stores to be picked up on arrival, for use after arriving. There have been issues with bringing conventional photo film home on planes in the past, and I have mailed it home (just USPS) before to get around the issue.
Frida Ghitis wrote on CNN about her experience with having to pack her laptop and other devices suddenly. CNBC reports that at least two Mideast airlines loaned passengers corporate laptops for inflight use, which works for passengers who have saved their data on memory sticks or in the Cloud.
Its also possible to envision a ground rental industry comparable to car rentals (maybe rented with cars). But security for the devices would be a huge issue requiring innovation. Right now the travel industry is not prepared to offer these services, because it has always assumed (since the late 1990s at least) that most travelers want to carry their own electronics.
Hotels do have business centers, which are generally inadequate with only one or two not very secure computers. I use these only to print boarding passes before returning.
Back in the period between 1997 and up to 2006, after I had established my online sites (doaskdotell.com and the prior hppub.com) I sometimes traveled without electronics. At the time, it was common for airports to require laptop startup (not always). More recently, laptops in TSA-approved bags have not had to be started. But in the early 2000’s there were more facilities in hotels or nearby Kinkos’ stores for checking email. At that time, I often checked my sites to make sure they were up but did not try to update them online. I did use my AOL email online. I did this one on week-long trip to Phoenix and Las Vegas from Minnesota in 2000, probably checking email four times. One hotel had Kinkos next door. In Europe, in both 1999 and 2001, I carried a primitive cell phone, but no computers. A hotel in Bilbao, Spain had a really large business center with very good response time and plenty of terminals. I was able to find well run Internet cafes in London. But I don’t know if I could find this level or service today.
Since taking up blogging at the start of 2006, I feel it is important to be able to update Blogger every day (almost), and WordPress blogs like this one somewhat less frequently. Were I to receive a “complaint”, I need to be able to fix a problem when “on the road”. (I don’t get the last at-bat, by analogy to baseball.)
My understanding that only “mobile” blogs on Blogger can be updated by phones (this may have changed, typical link). Mobile blogging on WordPress is possible (link). I am not sure now whether these techniques could work with my setup now. A small keyboard would help. The last time I tried, Blogger could not be updated from an iPad without third party apps. All of this I would need to check into later.
All of this could preview an environment where eventually web hosting companies could require third party contacts to update content in case of complaints and the owner could not be reached. I’ve never heard this idea mentioned, but it sounds plausible. (This would lead to discussion of the digital executor issue, which I’ve covered on my main legacy blog on Blogger).
Conventional social media (Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram) are much more easily used in a mobile-only environment without access to computing resources. But these don’t serve the same self-publishing interests that true web hosting (including embedded Blogging) services. I can also become relevant whether one is posting on a “free blog” or whether it is hosted (which right now, to my understanding, happens only with WordPress).
The ability to stay connected on the road is potentially very critical to the way I conduct my own business. I will stay abreast of it and report.
(Posted: Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)
Update: Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 12 noon EDT
CNN has a report that more airports and countries may be added to the electronics ban, but expansion of the ban is not necessarily eminent.
I wanted to pull together some threads of animosity in today’s multi-polarized climate over many issues, with all the rancor surrounding Donald Trump’s election and presidency.
A key concept seems to be resentment of “elitism”. David Masciaostra has a piece in Salon on Nov. 20, “’Real Americans’ v. ‘Coastal Elites’”. The tone of the piece reminds me of a drill sergeant, when I arrived at Tent City at Fort Jackson SC during 1968 Basic Combat Training, saying I had “too much education”. Others in the barracks regarded me as a “do nothing” or dead wire when it came to risk of pain and sacrifice. Salon mentions people wanting a leader who can talk in middle school language, or “talk that way”. Voters want respect for “real life” (as my mother called it); they see elites as spectators and critics who don’t put their own skin in the game. And some voters seem way to gullible in their response to authority that can get them what they think they want, whatever it costs others; and these voters actually believe that everything that matters in life happens through a chain of command, even within a family.
I could mention a related issue right away: modern society’s unprecedented dependence on technological infrastructure. Trump hasn’t talked about it this way, but Bannon ought to be paying attention to taking care of the power grids, especially, as I have often written here before. Along those likes, I thought I would share a New York Post piece on teen digital addiction. Remember 60 years ago, middle school teachers screamed, “Read, don’t watch television”. And in those days we had only black and white.
The “real life” person doesn’t trust what disconnected intellectuals write, so the “real lifer” doesn’t think it’s important to listen to arguments about pollution or climate change. The lifer knows that she can’t afford Obamacare premiums, but has no concept of how the policy changes promised to her by huckerizing politicians could make things worse for her or for a lot of other people. Lost. By the way, in the argument about health care, is the total lack of transparency in pricing (the GOP is right about this). But the “lifer”, with her anti-intellectualism, ignores a moral precept: that looking after the planet for future generations matters. Yet, it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve come to see that as a moral idea, even given our preoccupation with “family values” – and lineage. It’s ironic that the cultural, even gender-sexist moral arguments of the past flourished in a time of higher birthrates and shorter life spans, when filial piety and taking care of our elders hadn’t become the issue it is today.
Policy problems are often presented in moral terms, but we actually tend to get used to a status quo without asking why things need to be the way they are. If we did have single payer health care (like Canada), it would become the expected public safety net, and unreasonable demands on families or of volunteerism would no longer have a place at the “morality” table. Bernie Sanders is right about this. But other status quos in the past have been “bad”. We accepted homophobia without understanding why other adults’ private lives needed to be our business. We had a male-only military draft, and a hierarchy of forced risk-taking for the country. It took a long time to change these.
We also get used to begging from politicians in terms of groups and identity politics. That works better with “vertical” groups – long, well-established common identities that policy is used to addressing. These include nationality, religious affiliation, and race, and sometimes economic groups like labor and workers. Groups associated with gender issues and sometimes disability tend to be more “horizontal” as members appear in all the vertical groupings, causing divided loyalties. They intrinsically take longer for partisan political processes to handle. Differentiating “chosen” behavior and inheritance (or immutability) becomes much murkier. “Middle school kids” have a hard time disconnecting this from religion because of “anti-intellectualism”.
We also see appeals to become personally connected to people, as online, as transcending the barriers of the past, but still colored by “identity politics” and a tendency to entangle legitimate individualism with a sense of automatic entitlement to attention from others. We gradually learn that as we distance ourselves from our groups of origin (often families), we find their replacements (even a “resistance”) just as demanding in loyalty and obedience.
All of this leads me to pose the question, “How is the individual who perceives himself/herself as different really supposed to behave?” Maybe not the Pharisee that I became, who wants to be recognized for his original content, but doesn’t seem to care “about” individuals who can’t distinguish themselves.
This Sunday morning, CNN referred today as a “Solutions Sunday”, where people were encouraged to have Sunday dinner in a home with people of another race besides your own. Republican Senator James Lankford on Oklahoma was one of the hosts. Lankford said “Step outside your comfort zone and invite someone into your circle”. Maybe your inner sanctum.
Despite living in an “inherited” trust house, I really haven’t been in the “business” of having guests at home, because I’m so busy with personal projects. Events these days are nearly always in facilities. So there’s nothing unusual about great diversity in public spaces, but I have to admit that at home it sounds a bit novel.
When I lived in New York City, and sometimes before in New Jersey, I did sometimes have house parties or events, and I have had a few house guests over the years, mostly related in the past to college, chess clubs, or people in the LGBT community (not just “tricks”, although that happened a little in the 1970s). I’ve stayed with people , but very little since probably the 1970s. The largest event I ever held in my own space was an “Understanding” meeting (I think it was Wednesday, May 19) with about 25 people crowded into my own little studio apartment in the Cast Iron Building on E 11th St.
But it is very hard to help people without openness to letting it be personal if it need be (countering the “mind your own business” society), and for older adults, that’s often frankly easier when “you” have had and raised “your” own kids first.
I get a lot of pressure from others these days to become more open to “gratuitous” socializing and even dating, in my own home court, partly so that I don’t (at 73) remain “an accident waiting to happen” (to quote Jonathan Rauch in his mid 1990s book “Gay Marriage”). Yes, I prefer to remain individually productive and get recognized for my content (but not just with hyperbolic phrases like “esteemed author”). But it seems people see a continuum bridging fixing inequality in an economic or politic sense, and the way people actually make social and intimate “choices”.
Maybe nowhere is that idea so stark as in the issue of assisting refugees and asylum seekers, all over the world, but most of all in Europe, and then Canada, with the most comprehensive private sponsorship program in the world.
The New York Times has a booklet-length story today by Jodi Kantor and Katrin Eimhorn, “Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year; Then Came Month 13”. Refugee families were supposed to be cut loose from dependence on the private groups (usually of 5 people or 5 families, associated with various faith-based and sometimes secular groups) for rent and many other expenses. (In the US, where there is no private sponsorship as such, refugee families get some benefits, but generally depend on congregational offerings for some of the rent, almost always in commercially run apartments; in the US you have about 20 families in a congregation assisting one refugee family instead of just five as in Canada). What’s interesting about the story is that in Canada, many of the refugees did not speak English and had few job skills, and needed intensive personal attention from sponsors. In the US, generally, most of the refugees allowed in have male providers with considerable job skills and can speak English. “Blame Canada”, as in “Southpark“? The country seems to produce outstanding citizens. Look how well they do in Hollywood.
The New York Times missive bares some comparison to how the Mariel boatlift was handled in 1980, where churches asked people to put up refugees (often LGBT) in their own homes, very suddenly, mainly in southern cities. But it turned out that many refugees would need constant attention as many did not speak English and had no skills. Very few found “sponsors” on the spur of the moment.
Asylum seekers, as I have covered here, face a different situation, as they (usually) have already been in the country legally because of school or job skills. (That doesn’t include those put in detention and the border, and are generally released only if there are relatives who know them.) Canada’s reputation of relative generosity (especially relative to Trump) has led to some US asylum seekers crossing into Canada, especially Manitoba.
I’ve covered more details on my own situation on another blog, here.