Wikileaks exposes a lot of private lives

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Wikileaks has published private data of many ordinary citizens overseas, according to a more recent AP story by Raphael Satter and Maggie Michael Aug. 23, “Private lives are exposed as Wikileaks spills its secrets“.  One person “exposed” was someone arrested for gay sex (or was it merely for being known as gay).  Some says that the PII leaks come about as Wikileaks doesn’t have the staff to carefully review what it puts out.

On my legacy movie reviews blog, I’ve covered a lot of films dealing with government surveillance and its exposure (“Killer Switch”, “Citizenfour”, “Silenced”, “The Internet’s Own Boy”, “The Fifth Estate”, “We Steal Secrets”, “Underground: The Julian Assange Story”. An additional film was a 40-minute clip of US action in Iraq, “Collateral Murder”, with the help of Chelsea Manning.

“Amateur” publishing (“The Fifth Estate” indeed) does “keep them honest”.  But a lot of ordinary people tend to wind up in the crosshairs, and given the asymmetry.

(Published: Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016 at 11 PM EDT)

Gawker judgment, and possible licensing of journalists?

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Robert Coleman offers a speculative article about the future of journalism (especially by amateurs) in the  Foundation for Economic Education site, “Before Celebrating Gawker’s Demise, Consider This”. I’m continuing a discussion I had started on one of my legacy blogs, particularly concerning Peter Thiel’s justification of his own financial assistance with the litigation, where he considered Gawker’s behavior to revenge porn, here.

Coleman makes a lot of assertions or conjectures, which don’t always follow the logical flow of proving mathematical theorems (remember plane geometry).  He points out that Hulk sued under a privacy claim rather than a direct defamation complaint, which, since he is a public figure, could have made the legal standard (regarding actual malice or recklessness) easier to meet.  He also points out that the punitive damage component of the judgment might have violated due process in the Constitution or 14th Amendment.

But then he goes into the idea of newsworthiness, and whether it outweighs a putative invasion of privacy (again, for a public figure).  A jury is given the power to determine newsworthiness, as might a judge on appeal later.  This is seen as a threat to the press and to free speech, and the First Amendment.  Leave newsworthiness determinations to consumers, he says.

Finally, after making a journey through sedition laws, citing John Adams (and making a link all the way to Donald Trump’s threats against the press) which have involved criminal penalties (during World War I, you could go to jail for even criticizing the military draft) Coleman comes up with an analogy between journalism and law as professions, and asks if journalists should have to be licensed, or if we could be heading here (especially if Donald Trump wins the general election).

In fact South Carolina state representative Michael Pitts introduced a “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Law”  (Think Progress story ) which would require registration and background checks before any media outlet could hire a journalist (that is, apparently, capable of press credentials).  Pitt is accused of trying to troll media supporters of gun registration.

What, then, about “amateur” blogging?  Bye bye?

There were columns back in 2004 like “the coming crackdown on blogging”, because of the possible compromise of the campaign finance reform laws (blogs could be seen as unaccounted political support).  That actually figures into an incident in my life when I was substitute teaching in 2005, but the legal and practical concerns blew over.

Just last Sunday, Sarah Jeong wrote a missive in the Washington Post Outlook section (celebrating the August 1991 birthday of the World Wide Web) where she referred to “The Internet of Garbage” and discussed the tenuous continuity of Section 230 of the 1996 CDA, due to the lobbying power of Silicon Valley.

Coleman rightfully notes that the “licensure” could destroy the press as we know it, and its ability to keep politicians and governments honest.  Libertarians have opposed almost all zoning  (“not in my back yard”) and licensing, saying it protects established legacy businesses (look at the issue of licensing cosmetologists, as John Stossel has pointed out).  Indeed, authoritarian governments take the position that “knowledge” should be passed down through channels of social (familial) and political (or religiou) authority.  The right to be heard has to be earned by “paying your dues”.  It’s interesting to consider Russia’s 2013 anti-gay “propaganda” law, predicated on a belief that pro-gay advocacy will lower Russia’s already low birth rate.  Vladimir Putin (whose shirtless selfies are provocative) sees all public speech as “propaganda”.  Maybe so does Donald Trump.

(Published: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 6:15 PM EDT)

Self-publishing platforms can sometimes cover up plagiarism scams

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This is not particularly good news for the self-publishing world.  The New York Times had reported a year ago in a story by David Segal in a column, “The Haggler”, about the need for “Rousting the Book Pirates from Google”.

It seemed that some popular romance and science-fiction novels were being recycled as self-published books on the platform.  Generally, the “content review” process of self-publishing companies is supposed to screen out obvious fraud or copyright infringement, but that doesn’t seem to work so well on Google books.  Amazon doesn’t seem to have the same level of complaints.

What’s amazing to me is that people really buy these things.  But then they will buy pirated DVD’s for $3 a piece on NYC subways (right in front of me).

A recent post on “publishing advice” tries to blacklist some of the pirates.

I haven’t been so honored to see this happen to my books, but I have gotten told of a few plagiarism events (maybe from “turnitin”) from my old legacy essays on my “do ask do tell” site.  That’s flattering.

(Published: Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Is citizen journalism too much a spectator sport?

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Is citizen journalism a spectator sport?

I could embed this in a broader question, is journalism itself a spectator sport?

It’s pretty well established in major media circles that the top journalists have “paid their dues”, often with conflict reporting, and sometimes with prior work experience as grunts themselves.  It’s easy to come up with a hall of fame:  Anderson Cooper, Sebastian Junger (at one time seriously injured when working as an arborist), Bob Woodruff (who recovered miraculously from head wounds in Iraq), and more recently, OAN’s Trey Yingst.  Stuart Lee of the BBC has an article, “War reporting is not a spectator sport.”

One can add another level: sport’s reporting.  Not everybody is “good” enough to play professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey, etc. or to swim or cycle in the Olymics (many of us would not like the peaking). But others make their way as sports agents (playing “Moneyball”), or as reporters and broadcasters.  And sports journalism is very exacting, requiring constant attention to the detail of everything going on, on and off the field.

Sometimes we wonder about reporting on disasters.  I recall Anderson Cooper’s wading in flood waters in East Texas in September 2008 to report on Hurricane Rita, only to miss the financial crisis to erupt the next day in his own home town.  But with most disasters, journalists get to go home soon and resume their lives.  I wondered this with my last posting on disasters, where an OAN journalist reported on Red Cross volunteer efforts to rebuild the lives of people in eastern Louisiana after the floods, with people apparently willing to come from hundreds of miles away to give time and effort.  Some of the same effort was reported after a major apartment gas explosion near Washington DC.

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That’s where the citizen journalism issue starts to get dicey.  “Amateur” journalism does tend to perform a function that Anderson Cooper calls “Keeping them honest” and that I would term “Do Ask, Do Tell”.  It puts ideas in play that establishment media and especially politicians find hard to deal with, and it tends to confound the organizational discipline of “identity politics”.  But it can also seem nosey or intrusive, and self-indulgent (even in a “feminine” pursuit of “truth”).  Why won’t you “join” us and learn “what it’s like”?  Why won’t you walk in our shoes?  Instead of photographing the flood or fire damage, why won’t you stay and help us rebuild. You know you are more fortunate than us.

That sort of mentality is particularly well dramatized in the Netflix thriller “Rebirth” (review where a particular community enforces a rule “No spectators”.  Indeed, with topics of high security (and sometimes with political campaign events), it’s hard for people without “press credentials” to get in.  In some communities (such as those involving certain immigrants, like those seeking asylum), “curiosity” reporters could inadvertently out the clients in danger, so communities don’t want people without “skin in the game” looking on (that is, willing to take unusual risks to help).

This touches on an area already visited, the campus speech codes issue (May 14), particularly at the University of Missouri, as reported in the Columbia Spectator in an article by Caroline Lee April 4.  If marginalized groups are already demanding “media free” zones with respect to the established press, imagine how they feel about the Fifth Estate (May 30).

I’ll close by mention a Guide by Cordelia Hebblethwaite, “The Social Media Reporter”.  Note the technical knowledge involved in fact-checking social media leads to stories.

(Published: Sunday, August 21, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)

Disaster preparedness and prevention: is this about personal responsibility, or about having each other’s backs?

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Yesterday, on a little day trip, I drove down a remote creek valley road extending north west from the little hamlet of Gore, VA, about 10 miles west of Winchester on US 50.

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The road seems to follow a heavily wooded canyon (limestone or quartz rock walls several hundred feet high) around a stream, running in the western part of the Shenandoah Valley as the “Ridge and Valley Country”, leading to the Eastern Continental Divide eventually, starts.   There are numerous little bridges, some one lane, along the road (I think it is county 704) with warnings that the stream can flood.

I saw numerous homes, some of them mobile, some of them with small farms, and even a Boy Scout camp.  One home had a crude pontoon bridge crossing another little tributary to get to the house.  I didn’t look at my cell phone, but this indeed looks like life off the grid with sump pumps, self-reliance, gun ownership, and the like.

Apparently this area has been lucky enough not to flood during the numerous heavy rain events in the past three weeks as the heat wave finally breaks.  So what happened to Ellicott City could have happened here.  Or maybe it’s less likely – this area is farther area from water;  north central Maryland, by contrast, gets moisture from SE winds off the Chesapeake Bay, which makes the strorms in that area stronger with some wind shear that creates a small “tornado alley”.

But I was impressed by the fact that most “average people” do live in risky circumstances, and often are underinsured.  I don’t know whether flood insurance is required along this road, or how many people have it.  But when calls for financial help, donations, and even volunteer hours happen after a natural (or manmade) disaster, we often find that homeowners and renters had very poor or no insurance coverage (especially separate flood or earthquake insurance, since regular property insurance doesn’t cover floods and earth movement).

I wonder, do we live in a society with narrow “personal responsibility”, or do we need to learn more to have each other’s backs?

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We build on flood plains, and criticize people who do so – but when you drive through this canyon, you realize there is no place to live in the area except on a flood plain   We criticize people for building beach homes – but most landowners in resort areas (I know a woman who rents homes in Rehoboth) know the risk.  In Louisiana, residents in parts of New Orleans trusted the US government,, which failed them in Katrina;  and now residents around Baton Rogue face a flood that is said to be unprecedented, maybe related to climate change.  And many homeowners did not have flood insurance.

In the west, we build in urban fringes and into dry canyons that can be overrun by wildfires.  You don’t usually need special insurance coverage for wildfires.  But one match can destroy hundreds of homes.  So can dry lightning.  Look at what happened to Fort McMurray, in Canada.

Addendum: Trey Yingst of One America News reports on Red Cross volunteers in flood areas of Louisiana.

We could also stark a discussion about tornado storm shelters in homes in the Midwest and South, especially (some homes don’t have basements, normally), and even about tornado-proof steel construction (will return to this later).

 

 

(Published: Friday, August 19, 2016 at 2:15 PM EDT)

“Identity politics” is not for me, and it doesn’t solve problems

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I’m not particularly a fan of identity politics – or of abstract equality, or liberation politics either (they are all different things).

At its worst, “identity politics” leads to group combativeness, joining mass movements, and a belief that violent confrontation with the establishment and overthrow is necessary.  That’s happened a lot in history.

But more often, the process means disciplining the members of the group to become loyal to its own internal leadership and social structure, and not to distract it by allowing concerns from the outside world to seem “legitimate”.

The most obvious example right now would invoke race – the Black Lives Matter movement, which demands recognition for specific redress for past grievances, which are quite real.  It feels the counter statement “all lives matter” to be an insult (although the latter statement would invoke concerns like right to life, service, willingness to bond with others in challenging circumstances – resilience).  Identity politics would justify unrest, as in Milwaukee (maybe in Ferguson) even when the facts suggest (although maybe don’t conclusively prove) that officers had some justification for the action they took against a specific suspect.

In another worst case implementation, if you flip identity politics – you get an “Us v. them” mentality that Donald Trump seems to be exploiting.

Most often, identity politics involves a trait (like race) or behavior pattern (like religious practice) that you were born into (as part of a “natural family”), and did not choose.  Sometimes it is a kind of ethnic identity (like the Basque people in Spain). Yes, such characteristics do tend to become the targets for bigotry for its own sake.  But the underlying motive for such bigotry is usually preservation of an unearned economic or political advantage.  That’s the “Gone with the Wind” narrative of the Old South *and of Margaret Mitchell’s literary masterpiece, as well as 1939 epic film).  Nationality functions somewhat this way, as we see with the immigration debate, where race and religion obviously play in (particularly in the mind of Donald Trump).

You could consider the “worker class” (and labor union members) as a subject of identity politics.  “Workers” are indeed arguably “exploited” by capitalism – that is, people who did not do the labor with their own hands benefit from it with some degree of unseen sacrifice by workers (sometimes substandard wages overseas, even living in dormitories like pseudo-slaves).  They generally aren’t the targets of emotion-laden bigotry, but they are the subjects of political and economic manipulation by the already wealthy and powerful.  And labor leadership tends to be heavily politicized internally, demanding local loyalty of its members, sometimes with strong-arm tactics.  The Left can the as oppressive as the Right.

That brings us to “LBGTQ” (Donald Trump stumbles over remembering to say “Q” while pointing or raising his pinkie finger, as if Stephen King could serve up a nurse to amputate it (“Misery”, 1990).  Historically (much less so in more recent decades in western countries including the U.S. but still so in many Muslim and sub-Saharan “Christian” countries) there has been a lot of plain hatred and bigotry that defies rationality.  One prosecutor in (Pence’s)  Indiana tells me that he sees it just as another way for some people to feel more powerful in the pecking order (to have people “to feel superior to”).  It seems like common sense that a lot of it has to do with procreation.  “Conservative” parents may believe they are being denied a lineage (especially relevant in my case because I am an only child), or people in communal settings or less mature economies (like Russia) could believe that gay men will make other men feel less secure about having their own kids and families (which is all some people have “to look forward to” and is maybe a religious connection to vicarious immortality).  Then, in the 1980s, there was the way the right wing construed the public health “amplification” argument.

“LGBTQ” is really several communities (rather like saying Spain comprises several autonomous countries)  The cultural and personal values in the Trans community, or in black communities, can be quite different from “conventional” white gay males.   It is also usually a community someone was not born into, but “chose” (so to speak) to join, at least implicitly.  People often do not have the freedom even to make these choices, especially overseas.

But within the more challenged sub-communities, internal discipline is often strong, just as in other movements (like labor).  Leadership likes loyalty of its members.  It welcomes conventional talk of the outside world in terms of that world’s oppression of “us” as a disliked, marginalized or beleaguered group, but resists discussion of issues that would affect the prosperity or sustainability of the larger “democratic” outside world as a whole, as something that it cannot do anything about anyway.

That has sometimes been the attitude against me in the past when I have brought up the way external threats (like energy security) could compromise my life and probably “ours” (or “theirs”).  Sometimes people react as if I were playing “I told you so”, in that I could have a pretext for feeling superior to “them” if anything really happens, and have an excuse for having to share my spare or life with “them” with more  intimacy or emotional connection than I usually have shown “outside my box” in the past.

I also get the impression that I am expected to support people “where they are” when members of a disadvantaged group.  I’m supposed to support the idea that anyone who feels dispossessed by gender circumstances can automatically use any bathroom she chooses without question, as if this were the highest political priority.  I am definitely “different” myself, and grew up with the idea that it was my responsibility to learn to carry my own weight when it comes to participating in common needs (the military draft and deferment issue of my coming age helps form that narrative, but many younger people are largely unaware of it today – which is one reason why feeding historical narrative as I do is important).  But personal responsibility, and karma, would also require giving back if one has been lucky with unearned economic advantages.

If I, as someone who is “different”, am still going to take “penultimate” responsibility for what I make of myself in life, then the “global” outside world matters.  Infrastructure matters, and may have a lot more bearing on how well I turn out that particularized discrimination.  Indeed, one observation is that poor people typically live in less reliable infrastructures, and are more vulnerable to natural disasters and to negligent landlords (which may well turn out to be the case with the recent major apartment explosion in Silver Spring, MD).

Indeed, many of the “threats” that LGBTQ people face as individuals or that African Americans face, can come from the “outside world”.  If we “work smart”, we can reduce these threats.   I realize that I can drive on a city street with less chance of being pulled over by a cop.  Maybe that’s privilege now.  But how many other people understand what it was like to live in a dorm in 1961 when other men feared merely being around me could make them fail with women.  They honestly thought that.

It does seem that there are some external issues that transcend conventional identity politics and tend to draw people together to deal with complexity and moral ambiguity.  Immigration, with all the nuances of refugee and asylee assistance, is one such issue today.

(Published: Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, at 12 Noon EDT)

News story on government’s use of a private prison company to help with asylum seekers (from Central America) is a sign of accelerating social need

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Pertinent information about the refugee and asylum issues in the United States has started to circulate more this summer than it had before, as the shock effect of Donald Trump’s previous comments and proposed immigration bans on Muslims wears off and some sanity sets in.

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Monday morning, August 15, 2016. The Washington Post, in a front page story by Chico Harlan, “Windfall deal for asylum facility”, or more candidly titled online, “Inside the Administrations $1 billion deal to detain Central American asylum seekers”.    This story involve a contract with a company that builds prisons, “Corrections Corporation of America”, CCA.

Onine, Harlan has a blunt article, “Why the U.S. effort to stop Central Americans from surging across the border is failing”.

The first story does point out the difference between asylees and refugees (not often mentioned by the major media).  In this case, the threat of violence in some Central American countries is so great that the idea of an asylum application is legally supportable.

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve reported more information from Center Global of the DC Center for the LGBT Community on the asylum issue, especially in the comments on July 21.  The group has not enjoyed a high profile in major media but, starting in late 2015, began posting information that makes the asylum seeker issue for the LGBTQ communities within the US seem much larger than previously thought and needing much more attention from private individuals and organizations.  It’s possible to remain here legally while seeking asylum even if undocumented or on an expired visa.

Dave Bier has moved from Niskanen to the Cato Institute and has recently published several articles on Cato about immigration. Some of the material emphasizes the “mere” economic issues, but particularly relevant (although for refugees, not asylees) is “How to select refugees for private sponsorship” which would still not be legal in the United States.

It’s difficult for organizations quietly gearing up to deal with refugees or, especially, asylees to communicate the needs without politicizing the subject and possibly putting those who would provide service or housing in a difficult or even dangerous spot.

(Posted: Monday, Aug. 15, 2015 at 12:45 PM EDT)

Fibbies still indulge in civil asset forfeiture; a violation of 14th Amendment? Also, what DEA downgrade on pot means

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Here’s an anti-libertarian story from USA Today by Brad Heath, “DEA regularly mines Americans’ travel records to seize millions in cash”.

There are some pretty obvious red flags, like buying one-way tickets, especially with cash.  And it usually happens when people carry lots of cash, especially from the few states where recreational marijuana is at least partially legal (most of all, Colorado).

The Obama administration had pledged to look the other way (especially on Colorado) except in the most egregious cases.

But it seems that the government is using surveillance techniques that the Electronic Frontier Foundation would certainly lobby against.

And part of the problem is that federal law makes it very difficult for “legal” pot businesses to use banks or financial institutions in a normal way.

But police and federal agents can seize cash and assets (including cars) without due process, and keep them in many cases.  I don’t know how the government is getting around the Fourteenth Amendment.

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True, “Ordinary People” (like in the 1980 movie) traveling in a “normal” way buying transportation online with credit cards would probably never run into this.

Note that Vox has, in a piece by German Lopez, explained what the DEA’s keeping marijuana as “schedule 1” really means. .   The “schedule 1” refers to the drug’s not having legitimate medical uses – although the DEA says it will look at specific chemicals in marijuana as medically legitimate on their own. Can isolated component of THC reverse nausea from chemotherapy or control seizures?

(Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 at 4:30 PM EDT)

“Scruffy hospitality”: especially for having friends over to watch baseball

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On a humid Wednesday morning, July 29, 1959, about a month before I was to start my junior year in Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA (with that American history class from the world’s greatest social studies teacher of all time, Simon Korczowski ) and compose my big D Minor piano sonata (on snow days 6 months later), I rode over with my father to the barber shop (still there) in Westover in Arlington VA.  This was the first morning back after we had ridden home from Kipton, Ohio on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (four tunnels then) and the Washington Post newspaper delivery hadn’t been restarted yet.  Right outside the barber shop, I saw a news stand with the morning Post, and a sports banner on top, “A’s Hop on Pascual, too, 6-1” (game )

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The Washington Senators, who had started out the baseball season decently, had just lost their tenth game in a row.  The Kansas City Athletics had won their ninth.  This had been a “late” game in the Midwest (and at the time, KCMO didn’t have DST), but somehow the Post edition at the barber shop was late enough to have all the scores.  Less than ten years later I would complete graduate school in that area.  Camilo Pascual had been the Nats one ace (comparable to Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer this year). The Senators would lose every game on a western trip (in those days, the West comprised Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland), for the first time ever.  The streak would end at 18 at home a week later with a second game twi-night 9-0 shutout over the Cleveland Indians, tossed by Tex Clevenger.

How well I remember baseball then – us kids even had, at one time, run a “league” in our own backyards (previous post).  OK, the point of this sermon – I could “feel” I was part of something “bigger than myself.”  From my earliest beginnings of hating sports, I rooted for the doomed Senators, in a representing a Nation’s capital city polarized by racial divisions that nobody would talk about, a city seriously compromised by the lack of democracy (call it “home rule”.  From a self-interest viewpoint, rooting for losers like the Senators made no sense. (The Redskins didn’t do well then, either.)  The Senators would do much better in the 1960 season, then suddenly move to Minnesota (where I would live 1997-2003 – funny how what goes around returns).

I recall that I didn’t even understand how baseball worked until third grade – that balls are batted and caught or fielded.  The physics (watching batted balls ricochet off the Green Monster in Fenway Park in Boston) was tantalizing. My third grade teacher and reported about my demanding too much attention and not having any feeling of affinity for my team or “group”.  How often today in MLB do we hear about “team” wins when a key star player had been injured?

Let me jump to another scenario, a sermon a few weeks ago at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, by Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, where she spoke of “scruffy hospitality”.  She’s referring just being prepared to welcome guests in your home at any time without the necessity for ritual cleaning to perfection for company. That follows on a sermon from Oct. 27, 2012 when she talked about “radical hospitality”  one day before Hurricane Sandy was due.  (We had been through the power outages from the June 29 derecho).  As it would happen, there was little damage or inconvenience from Sandy here – the brief period of sudden low barometric pressure (and brief high winds) actually cleared up some hip arthritis I was having – nature’s cure.   I’ve heard the hospitality thing before – once being asked if I would consider using my home for a partisan fundraiser – oh, where was this coming from?   Of course, the hospitality thing comes up with so many real disasters – wildfires in the west, floods in West Virginia and recently Ellicott City, MD, but we’ll come back to that.

As for incidental hospitality, most of the social gatherings I attend are in public venues, often bars and restaurants (or, depending on the group, church gyms ready for “Godly play”, or even major league sports stadiums).  Not many are in private homes any more.  They were a lot more common when I was growing up (and, yes, my mother cleaned for them – I remember those shrimp creole dinner parties on winter Saturday nights.)

But “scruffy hospitality” goes along with another idea, something like “Lotsa Helping Hands”.  Churches (synagogues, and mosques) typically set this community up among their own fellowships.  Here’s were “socialization” comes down.  “You” are a member of a group before you express yourself as an individual.  Your content has no meaning until others benefit from it.  Others need to matter to you in a way that’s up close and personal.

The “helping hands” mentality is at odds with an individualistic “mind your own business” culture, to be sure.  When someone like me “returns” to a mainstream church – no matter how liberally politically (and today more and more mainstream churches support ideas like marriage equality, whatever the fringes are trying to do with “religious freedom” and the “bathroom bills”).  It is very difficult for me to step into a world like this and feel very welcome, because, for one thing, I never had my own kids.  I would be difficult for me to accept the idea of a “free ride” at work for a “new mom” (paid maternity leave) without wondering if I were being compelled to “sacrifice” for someone else’s benefit that I would never use.

So here we get to the heart of socialization – you have to start by belonging somewhere.  That was the point of Martin Fowler’s book on the subject.  If you “belong” you will feel natural empathy and willingness to chip in, even (to quote Judith) “when it costs you something”.  There’s been a lot written about this the past few days – in reaction to the aggressive hyper individualism of Donald Trump.

For example, David Brooks invokes Sebastian Junger’s new booklet “Tribe” in his piece “The Great Affluence Fallacy”; and then there’s a dual between Robert Putnam and libertarian Charles Murray over communitarianism, as implied in this book review invoking “I v. We” on Vox of Putman’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”.   Then an effective LTE (“Loners can’t be fixers” ) slams Kathleen Parker’s libertarian interpretation of conservatism  in the Washington Post , Parker curiously had invoked Russell Kirk’s “10 Conservative Principles”, rather moralistic and proto-communitarian, where Kirk writes (in point 9) that power is, in political terms, “the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows”.

The place where most people develop socialization is supposed to be the “natural family”, to borrow a term from a 2009 “manifesto” by Carlson and Mero.  (Sounds like saying “Most people walk in the direction they’re heading” – Shane’s famous admonition to Danny in “Judas Kiss”.)   Particularly, older kids are likely to learn to take care of younger siblings.  (I remember a mother’s saying that to me when I was working a Census survey in 2011 – like this was an off-the-wall moral imperative.)  That means that older kids in a family may have more opportunity to learn the personal value of “family” in relation to personalized achievement goals.  That may be one reason why younger kids may be less conventional or more “liberal” or rebellious, and insistent on their own paths.  Younger sons may be more likely to be gay for biological reasons having to do with epigenetics, but they also may have less opportunity to learn the “value” of becoming a future father and provider.   This all gets blown out – in reviewing a silly mainstream Hollywood comedy film on July 28 I noted David Skinner’s old-fashioned take on a supposed duty of men to become providers and protectors. And without the “reward” of having a family of one’s own (which in my generation required procreative sexual intercourse in most cases) it’s hard to fit in to a community centered around caring for other generations.  Family is the first place you learn to “love” people in a closed space unconditionally, regardless of “ability” (to borrow from Marx); it’s the first community where you learn to have each other’s backs.  In practice, that’s a big reason to need “relationships”. If you really want to learn more about “family values”, study the “distributed consciousness” of the (non-human person) orca (story). Cetaceans know no geography (or “Global Pursuit”).

Of course, that’s changing – with acceptance of gay marriage and of same-sex couples as parents.  That doesn’t “help” me “fit in” all that much.  I have to run on the record I have, and on what was possible earlier in my life in setting myself up.

So, then, what about all the other “communities” I “joined” during my adult life.  The most important may have been the Ninth Street Center  in New York in the 1970s.  Various others included the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas and then Whitman Walker in Washington, to volunteer for PWA’s, and social groups like Chrysalis and Adventuring, and there are others.  And of course there are political groups.  But in a couple of cases there have been incidents where I believe I did an “OK thing” and someone else thought something I did was wrong because I somehow didn’t “belong” enough to the group to know what was really going on behind the lines.

That leads to another place – whether knowledge should really be acquired in the “It’s Free” mode – the debate about open access, and even kicked off by Reid Ewing’s little short film about a public library.  A lot of people think that knowledge should come down through a family or social structure.  The Rosicrucian Order teaches that mystical knowledge is acquired as one moves through various levels of initiation (but then, so does Scientology).  Then, there is the “no spectators” mentality so well acted in the recent sci-fi film “Rebirth” (indeed, no “alien anthropologists” like me or Mark Zuckerberg).

There is a practical reality that today many people may not have total freedom to join other communities (for “socialization”) beyond their original family.  Of course, that’s the case in authoritarian societies, but even in democratic cultures, aging populations tend to keep people tethered.  The hard reality is that people need to take care of others outside of their own scope of choice sometimes, and find meaning in doing so.  We find this a hard thing to say.

Families do indeed have a problem letting go.  “Family” is supposed to be the place people learn to belong to a community, but some families never allow their members to move on beyond “taking care of their own”.  (See the David Brooks piece, July 15;  Murray had explained this in terms of social capital types, like “bridge capital” which grows out of “bonding capital”, but not always reliably.)

Many churches actually do reach out abroad, sending youth or college-age groups overseas, to Central America or sometimes even Africa, for missions or service — setting up a process where young adults learn to bond with others from cultures very different (and much less individualistic) than theirs.  The church mentioned above has a summer mission trip to Belize, and has even made a short film showing the bonding,  worthy of festival submission (like DC Shorts), in my view, at least.

As for me, I find it hard to stomach the idea of wearing somebody else’s uniform in public, or someone else’s protest flag.  Yes, earlier in my life, some of “identity politics” made sense (I marched in my first “Christopher Street Liberation Say” in New York City in 1973).  Individualism, and the narrow idea of personal responsibility (focused most of visible consequences for deliberate personal choices) has actually served me well in most of my adult life (for example, avoiding HIV). I’ve gotten away with viewing most people through the lens of “upward affiliation”, not from the meaning that would come from actually being needed in more down-to-earth ways by them.  But I’ve been lucky.  Yet, I do hold to the belief that no matter what happens to someone or what someone is born into, some of the responsibility for that person’s karma stays with that person, isn’t the automatic obligation of social policy.

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As for baseball:  Yes, Richard Harmon wants to pitch one game for his favorite San Francisco Giants, and thanks to Max Scherzer’s wife for helping set up Pride Night at Nationals Park.  One day, MLB will have a transgender pitcher; it’s sure to happen.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)

So, why do I always “write it up”? Hint: Hustle and Flow; and I may need “Identity politics” someday

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I recall back in fifth grade, probably in the spring of 1954, we were shown a black-and-white film about the Mexican Revolution.  The only match I can find is the pre-code “Viva Villa!” (Jack Conway), 1934.  I’m not sure why it was shown; maybe it was cleaned up.  (When I worked as a substitute teacher, the 1932 film “The Most Dangerous Game” was shown in ninth grade after the class had read Richard Connell’s short story – then to do a comparison of story to film, and also an essay on the relative virtues of “brains” v. “brawn’. Back in fifth grade, after we had watched the film for about an hour and a half, the teacher, a Miss Craft, ordered us to “write it up.”

So that’s what I do now on my blogs with most of the media I see.  It’s fair to ask “why”.  What do I accomplish?

I know the verse 1 Corinthians 13:11, and can wonder about childish things.  Indeed, there’s been a lot of fantasy in my life.  Isn’t model railroading a fantasy creation?  Isn’t writing fiction novels?  I remember as one summer in Kipton, Ohio started, maybe around 1954, we started to build a “play city” of blocks and toys on the outside sidewalk leading to the old potty (past a maze of grape vines).  Mother didn’t like out continuing “baby play”. But we just changed to fantasy baseball.  Back in 1955, I set up a whole fantasy baseball season with cardboard stadiums, whiffleball, and softball engineered to fit into back yards (sometimes over the fence was out).  This seems healthier (with outdoor play with real sports objects) that fantasy leagues on websites in casino style today.  (I won’t get too much into the libertarian arguments that the government should leave fantasy sports and onlne gambling alone – but I think it should, as would Gary Johnson.)   One day, I “gave it up” and threw away the paper records of the fantasy league.  I wish I still had them; they’d make for good antiques and history of life in the 50s.

In the summer of 1954 my cousin and I also made film strips (my best one was “The Land of the Bible” but there was also “Squish” (horror) and “Pie Face”.  Some of these had been real movies.

I finally settled into tournament chess, which still can become addictive.  Oh, it’s too much a game of skill for Las Vegas (unlike poker).  But on any given day, anyone can beat anyone else (almost), just like in MLB or the NFL.

All this goes against what my late mother used to call “real life”.

So what’s the point of all my blogging and writing in retirement.  I’m “lucky” enough that it doesn’t need to make much money, but that leads to another moral discussion later.

It started with the books, now in POD, and all of this was originally generated by the “gays in the military” issue, as I wrote here May 28.

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There was a backdrop of libertarianism – the idea that government should stay out of your pocketbook and out of the bedroom – a concept most Americans really prefer (but that neither major party can endorse because of historical entanglements).  The military issue was colored by the idea that military personnel, in practice, still have personal lives to be respected.  On the other hand, the idea that we need to have people to serve in the military (even with the draft “suspended”) means that there can be tension among what individual people – especially outliers like me, some standard deviations away from the social norms —  do and broader group (“societal”) needs driven by external factors, including enemies – which tends to make some of us dependent on the unseen sacrifices of others.  The military problems of “privacy” and “unit cohesion” seemed to have  parallels in many other areas of life.

So even in writing the books, I dealt with a lot of other concentric issues, like tension among different kinds of families (including singles and childless people v. traditional families), which could branch out into sustainability issues like climate change, national security, an aging population, and most of all, “ungated” user-generated speech.’

I believe, in writing the books and then in maintaining the material online (mostly in an “It’s free, It’s free” mode), I am playing history teacher.  We need to understand the pressures on people (our own families or “ancestors”) in the past.  I know I get flack for bringing up “external threats” or issues why acting as gawker or alien anthropologist, when I could reasonably “join in”.  (Remember how in the movie “Rebirth” the commune has a rule, “No spectators!“) Of course, I grew up in a culture that “expected” or even demanded that men become “protectors and providers” (if “I” didn’t do it, someone else had to risk the “sacrifice”), and that women become mothers. That doesn’t fly today, but it seems like a lot of people today don’t realize that is how it used to be (maybe out of necessity), and how it is in much of the rest of the world (the “authoritarian” and “religious” parts).  I realize you have to jump in sometimes and learn to have one another’s backs — but it’s important to hear independent voices on what the external world is doing.  Sometimes there is more you can do about it (outside of political correctness) than you think.

In time, I found I could attract visitors by maintaining my material online, first in footnote files connected to the books, then in a variety of essays and “editorials”, and finally blogs, and even more finally, modern social media.

Yet, I could take advantage of accumulated savings (from having less debt than most people because of childlessness)  and later inheritance.  That gets into a “reactive” moral discussion that I leave largely for later.  I didn’t need to make money from the postings, so I could afford some amateurism.  That’s where the whole “fantasy world” model comes back into play.

Nevertheless, I think that by covering a number of topics not ordinarily covered adequately by the normal media, I, as the “5th estate”, help “keep them honest” – merely by the fact that I always stay online, to be found by search engines, playing devil’s advocate for everything.  Some of these issues include matters like power grid security, downstream liability, Internet business model sustainability, and downstream liability exposures.   The bigger op-eds go on the commentary blogs; the smaller news items (about matters that could have surprising effects on things that matter to a lot of us) stay on the legacy blogs (and get circulated through social media news posts).

There are those who say it is harmful for “devil’s advocate” messages to come from the wrong person.  Very combative people, instead of ignoring unwelcome viewpoints, might target speakers or others connected to them.  Recently, I was criticized on Facebook for a posting that recognized the idea that civilians are being regarded as combatants by terrorists and foreign enemies, as if an “amateur’s” evening mentioning the idea makes it more likely that actual enemies will act on it.  But, this isn’t about ideology, it is about observing reality.  The same kind of thinking goes into legitimate arguments supporting capability for self-defense.

I don’t have much personal use for participating in “identity politics”, although at a certain intellectual level I recognize there is some necessity in it – if you belong to a group, then “all lives matter” to you in the group, something that is really not possible with total globalization of personal attention.

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I would indeed have to come off a “Dr. Phil” high horse to become more focused on specific people – to prove that helping them meant something beyond upward affiliation.  I can imagine a thought experiment (a favorite term of Andrew Sullivan, as I recall), where I do a “reset” (like in the movie “Jackrabbit”, July 27, where it’s forced on the world, making it dystopian) where all my online content is erased — something that was contemplated at one time to pursue a “real” second career selling stuff or teaching, to get around “conflict of interest” problems — a bit like throwing into a sanitary landfill the records of 1955 fantasy (“baby play”) baseball.  In churches (especially in Texas), indeed, I’ve heard people raise their hands and scream “I’ve given up everything, Lord, now I’m yours.”  How can I help others personally without an anchor in my own expressive identity, even made very public, first?

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I won’t get much further into this compulsive thinking too much now, other than to point to a comment made by a user on a friend’s website (that’s Vox technology and policy analyst Timothy B. Lee, who helped arranged on of my book talks when I was living in Minneapolis, when he was a student at the University of Minnesota.)   A male teacher writes here in the comments on June 4, 2016,  “Please, spend more time working with poor people disabled people, people in hospice, abuse victims, and explain to all of them what is your idea of a living wage.”  And my gut reaction would be, there’s no honor in becoming a victim, I just have to be strong enough to prevent it.  That sounds like Donald Trump, without the “takings sides” and baiting. The speaker would say, You have to get over that to be heard.  After all, the subtitle of my third book is, “Being Listened to Is a Privilege” (with this reaction).  Indeed, “It’s hard out here for a pimp.”

(Published: Sunday, August 7, 2016 at 11:50 PM EDT)