Does the Trump-Putin fiasco all come down to the Magnitsky Act and the sanctions for human rights abuses?

In the past days, there has been a lot of reporting to the effect that one of the major motivations for Vladimir Putin’s encouraging interference with the 2016 US presidential elections was specifically the provisions of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which punishes at least eighteen Russian officials for the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.

The punishment apparently impounds significant Russian assets previously held in the U.S. banking system.  These might be connected to other assets, like expensive urban (especially New York City) real estate.  Some commentators have suggested that the financial impact could inspire internal dissension in Russia that threatens Putin’s hold on power. Putin retaliated by banning adoption of Russian children by Americans, which could also reflect concerns about low birthrates.

The law seems fairly narrow as described.  But in 2016, the act was expanded to include “human rights abusers everywhere” according to Fox News. Obviously, the gay community in the U.S. would wonder about connections to abuses (most notably in Chechnya) and the tendency of extrajudicial violence in Russia against various people perceived as unpopular.  And one could wonder about connections to aggression in Ukraine, the Baltics, conceivably Finland later on.

There are also issues for US companies and charities that would employ people overseas, sending them to Russia or to other countries, especially in the Middle East, sometimes SE Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, that are hostile to homosexuals, whatever their non-discrimination policies at home.  One wonders if someone like me who is visible on social media and Google could get into trouble if even trying to visit Russia, say, just St. Petersburg, on a train from Finland. Possibly my posts critical of Putin, or discussing Putin’s concern over the birth rate could be seen as undermining the willingness of younger Russians to have children when they find my material.  Imagine being held in a prison and being forced to remove all my social media presence before going home.  I wonder if something like that can happen.

Matthew Yglesias of Vox has a particularly disturbing commentary today on Donald Trump’s attitude about this whole thing.  We don’t have someone of character (let’s say John McCain) in the Oval Office right now.

Bolshoi, St. Petersburg

Kremlin

(Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2017, 12 noon EDT)

Bloggers, press credentials, and “legitimacy”

Last week I went to a small demonstration about the lapsing of network neutrality on the Capitol grounds.  After all the speeches, Sen. Markin (D-MA) asked if there were questions, from the press (non-restrictive, I thought). But when I didn’t have a media company employing me (I said I was “independent”) I was “silenced”. Here is my legacy blog account of the incident.

Then, yesterday “it” happened again.  I got an email from a PR company about an opportunity to interview a particular transgender activist, who was going to speak in Washington at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.  I asked if I could just go to the meeting.  Apparently, only if I worked for a media company.  I got the impression the PR person wouldn’t have offered the interview had he realized I work solo.

In fact, I get a lot of emails asking if I would interview someone.  Some, but probably a minority, of them mention the possibility of articles on one of my legacy Blogger sites (like “Bill of GLBT Issues”) which obviously don’t come from a “professional news organization.” Most of these invitations are with persons with very narrowly focused niche issues (sometimes embedded in identity politics), or sometimes very specific products or services to sell (of the “self-help” variety), not of broadband interest, so I usually don’t try to follow up.  But what if I got an invitation to talk to someone involved in an issue I view as critical and underreported by the mainstream press, like power grid security?

One of the best links on this issue seems to come from NPPA, “The Voice of Visual Journalists”, which poses the blunt question “How do I obtain press credentials if I do not work for a newspaper or magazine or I am a freelancer?”

There is a US Press Association which appears to offer cards for a membership fee, and I’m not sure how well recognized it is by the industry.

Some videos suggest that “YouTubers” and Bloggers can get press passes for trade shows (like CES) if they are persistent enough.

But many other sources on the Web (for example, WikiHow) suggest that you need to work for someone, and get paid for what you do, at least with a contractual agreement if not an actual employee.   It would be a good question if you can work for your own company in this sense.  Maybe you would have to register your business with the state you live or work in, or show that it pays its own way with normal accounting.

Of course, it’s obvious that many events have to keep the audience small and limited because of space and security reasons (White House briefings).

On the other hand, many events (such as QA’s for newly released motion pictures at film festivals) are open to the public (buying tickets) and take questions from anyone.  Most of the video I present on my parallel “media reviews” blog (older than this one) come from this setup.

There’s a potential dark cloud down the road regarding the issue of press credentials or legitimacy (v. amateurism).  Imagine a world a few years from now where all network neutrality has been eliminated, and only the websites of “credentialed” organizations can be connected to ISP’s   Sounds like Russia or China, maybe.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has expressed a dislike of mainstream “liberal” media companies (CNN, most of the television broadcast networks, most of the big city newspapers), but respects only outlets like Fox, OANN, and maybe even Breitbart, maybe even Milo.  Maybe he actually respects me.

For the record, let me say that I am interested in working with news outlets on some critical issues.  I can’t give more details right now.

(Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 11 AM)

Will “artificial intelligence deniers” tomorrow mimic climate change deniers today?

Elon Musk has called artificial intelligence a potential existential threat to civilization, according to meida reports, such as this story on NPR by Camila Domonoske    Stephen Hawking has made similar warnings, as has Google’s Eric Schmidt.

This gets beyond the job losses to technology and automation, and the hollowing out of the middle class (for which Trump’s “MAGA” seems like a band-aid). AI entities could, in this view, develop real self-awareness and malevolent intentions, just like in the movies.

We can run through a list of films from the past that have exploited this idea. The classic is MGM’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) where HAL proxies for IBM.  Or “Guardians of the Galaxy” recently.  Or the droid character on the forlorn spaceship in “Alien” (1979).  Or try A24’s “Ex Machina” (2014).  Or Spielberg’s outright “A.I.” (2001).  A tempting theme is that a hero of a film doesn’t know he is really a robot.  I like the idea of not knowing you are an alien or even an angel better.

Playing chess at a grandmaster level does not signify consciousness.  At a certain point, even for human players, endgames become precise mathematical calculations.   Conversely, Magnus Carlsen, with other egos as a male model and fitness person, is fully human, whatever his blindfold simultaneous capabilities.  Maybe his endgame skills could help MLB baseball teams psychologically with their “closers” (relief pitchers, especially the Washington Nationals).

We still don’t know what creates self-awareness and free will.  We think that it has something to do with microtubules in the brain.  But how does that explain, for example, distributed consciousness in some animals, ranging from social insects even to dolphins?  There is some reason to think that there is a connection between distributed consciousness and what we call “soul” or that which survives in an afterlife.  Indeed, consciousness is more than the sum of its parts, even when we look at our own individual cells.

Another possibility that invokes the AI scare is nanotechnology.  Jack Andraka (“Breakthrough” book), inventor of the new pancreatic cancer test, wants people to carry circulating nanobots in their bloodstreams (like “Jake 2.0”, the UPN series 14 years ago) to find and zap cancer cells.  Would nanobots develop a collective mind of their own?

So, two decades from now, could “AI deniers” become a political issue just like the “climate change deniers” of today?

There’s one more biggie to think about.  If man starts planning to colonize the Moon or Mars (or maybe the atmosphere of Venus with a floating platform at 30 miles elevation) and set up a micronation, we’ll have to ponder how we select the people who go, beyond mere medical fitness.  Should they be people who do not intend to have children?  If we ever had to evacuate Earth with a rama-like spaceship, how would we choose the people who could go and live several geneations on a spacecraft to reach another solar system (maybe the earth-like exoplanet around Proxima B)?

(Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at 1:30 PM EDT)

Other people’s children

I saw a Facebook post recently from Arvin Vorha, a mathematics educator and Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Maryland, which read “If you didn’t produce a particular child, your financial responsibility to that child is zero.”

Oh, is that the real world?  How often to childless people wind up raising the kids of siblings after family tragedies? (That was the premise of the WB series “Summerland” that started in 2004.)  Or there is the premise of “Raising Helen” where raising a child is a requirement for a inheritance, although that sounds fair enough.

There is also a practical issue that, for a family or for a “people”, having children and being able to raise them is an important capacity.  A lot is said about population demographics or “demographic winter”, especially by the alt-right, which warns that populations with foreign values (read Muslim) will take over the political lives of western countries because they have more kids and at younger ages, without waiting for ideal circumstances (education and perfect job) according to narrower libertarian notions of personal responsibility.

In the workplace, at least back in the 90s, there were a few occasions where I worked overtime without pay when someone else had family issues or was having a baby.  How does that play into the paid family leave debate?

And then, when I talk on Facebook about how cheap my own health insurance was when I was “working” in my long track IT career, and I was flamed about my own privilege, for having my establishment employers subsidize my insurance with tax-free benefits. Well, they could have paid me more instead,  Then the flamethrower wrote something like “You must not have kids.”

Right, not having procreative intercourse with the opposite sex is indeed an indication or moral inferiority, a lower deserved size in life?  Is that what this means?  Is that what the equality debate is about?

Indeed, the backside of the demographics debate is the “cost” of eldercare of an aging population.  I found out two decades ago how easily I could be “conscripted” into this world, and then play the privilege card by hiring immigrant caregivers.

Then there are all the debates about race and genetics, which some see as offensive (Wade’s “Troublesome Inheritance” and Murray’s “Bell Curve”). But it seems that things cancel out if better-educated people have fewer children.

I do have to add one extra detail:  Susan Collins (R-ME) has mentioned “my” idea of using reinsurance in the revised health care play (to cover pre-existing), and Rand Paul (R-KY) wants individuals to have the same bargaining power by getting together as employees of big companies or union members today. Trump, as a businessman, has to have pondered these ideas, right?

Here’s a legacy post about the demographic winter issue, referring back to a 2007 “Manifesto” (decree from “on high”) by Carlson and Mero, “The Natural Family” as well as Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle“.

(Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

People abroad sometimes ask (on social media) Americans to help them get visas to come to the U.S.: here is what I found out

Recently I’ve noticed that overseas contacts (from poor countries) on social media, especially “Friends” on Facebook, inquire about assistance coming into the United States. Sometimes the messages seem overly personal, even confrontational, as if well-off Americans have a moral obligation to provide for them out of unearned privilege. This may be particularly true for Americans who have written about the issue and attracted attention, as if they somehow had magical connections to play international superman.  That is an illusion.

I looked up a few links from reputable law firms and references, including USCIS.

Here are some general conclusions. No question, this issue has become more difficult under Trump than it would have been with Hillary Clinton in office.

It appears that foreigners overseas looking to come to the US are responsible for submitting and tracking their own applications. US citizens here cannot submit applications for them.

But there may be occasional situations where a person in the US owns or manages a business that has an unusual need for workers with certain skills, that is not easily filled domestically. And sometimes there are businesses (like agricultural) where there could be a sudden large demand for relatively unskilled and manual labor jobs that Americans don’t want. A particular American on Facebook may own such a business or have close connections to someone that does. But in general, this would be an improbable “long shot” for the typical blogger who gets a request like this from a social media message, to provide this kind of assistance, even if he/she wanted to.

Of course, a solid work opportunity in the US could facilitate getting a green card and lawful permanent residence in the US

It is possible to get visas to visit people, who usually have to be legitimate relatives or known to the person in the real world (not just online). This is harder right now with Trump’s travel restrictions. A critical point is that the visitor must intend to return to the home country in a specified period (not overstay), or at least not announce an intention to stay. This gets to be a legally tricky point that sounds like “don’t ask don’t tell” or “silence is golden” or “I don’t know”.

In some cases the American may have to file an I-864, an “affidavit of support”, especially for longer stays. The U.S., however, does not have a “private sponsorship” program for refugees comparable to Canada’s (libertarian groups like Cato have argued that the U.S. should develop one).

There are many stories on the Internet of people who have tried to bring people here “illegally”. This is not a practice I can have anything to do with.

Understand that “Friendship” on social media is not the same thing as a long term association (familial or not) in the real world, in what it might make the friend want to do.

In some cases, a person overseas is better off still trying to find the best job in “their” home country. That may be particularly true in countries where US companies have outsourced a lot of jobs (consider call centers in India, for example).  Of course, pay is low, and sometimes there is dorm living (like in China).  That is something Donald Trump says he wants to change.  I get the moral issue of American consumers becoming addicted to cheap “slave-like” labor overseas.

Of course, anyone who contemplates emigrating to the U.S. should seek professional legal assistance at home first.  You can’t get reliable legal help on Facebook alone (or from blogs like mine),

Here are some nice links.

Work permits:  onetwo, three

How to apply for work permits

Visit invitations

special relatives

USCIS: I864

USCIS: rules for siblings

Wikipedia: Green cards and permanent US residence 

(Posted: Friday, July 14, 2017 at 8:30 PM EDT;  several important comments below on guest workers and asylum seekers, breaking developments)

OK, I am a political hobbyist, too, and I don’t have to put my own skin in the game; I plead guilty

The New York Times ran an op-ed by Eitan D. Hersh, “Political Hobbyists Are Ruining the Country” in the Review Section Sunday July 2   Online, the title is “The Problem with Participatory Democracy is the Participants”.  This sounds like a series of choices on a “My Weekly Reader” reading comprehension test in grade school, “the best title for this story is ..”  Oh, that was third grade (1951) when the smartest girl in the class only got 44 out of 60 and poor little Bill got 16.   There’s a similar story in the Boston Globe “The Most Dangerous Hobby” by Hersh, inspired by the WB classic film “The Most Dangerous Game” based on a story by Richard Connell.  We read and watched that in 2005 when I was substitute teaching, in the middle of an incident caused by my own political hobbying.

So I’m one of the problem hobbyists.  OK, when do I “pay my dues” and do my part?  I do vote in all elections, including primaries.  I have worked as an election judge three times in retirement, although not recently. I do talk to neighbors about elections.  They’re both conservative to libertarian.

But I don’t raise money for candidates or issues.  I don’t knock on doors.  And don’t take orders from party operatives or pressure groups on what it is OK to say in a book, social media, or a blog.  And some of the mail I get for partisan contributions (I got one from Donald Trump) is plainly ridiculous. (Back in 1984 I got a very bossy letter from the Dems on how much money I “owed” to help Walter Mondale.)

And I generally don’t respond to urgent pleas to text or call law-makers about very narrow, niche issues.  I feel that if I did, that would dilute my effectiveness on when I have something unique to say. Sometimes I do sign online petitions.  I think I signed one to free Chelsea Manning, which Obama did.

What’s more significant is that I have never run for public office.  I can’t imagine asking people for money.  But in 2000 I almost ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Minnesota.  Another candidate, a gun enthusiast, would run instead and get himself arrested at Mystic Lake to make a point on the right to bear arms.  You see how polarizing this gets.

We don’t encourage the right people to run.  If someone like Anderson Cooper were president right now, the country would be just fine, with no scandals.  I think Anderson would listen to Lindsey Graham and become hawkish enough on North Korea and ISIS (and Russia).

I don’t join mass movements for revolution right now, although I can never say never.  Rather than put all my eggs in some revolutionary idea like single payer, that I know won’t pass, I try to solve problems within the existing system.  Like, if you want to allow a barebones health plan for the young and healthy, accept the fact that you have to subsidize the already sick a lot more, and reinsure them, to deal with the anti-selection problem. If we already had single payer, it wouldn’t be controversial or debated – except that we would have to deal with waiting lists and sometimes end-of-life decisions.  There is no way to escape the math.  Life is not a zero-sum game, but you can’t get something for nothing.  E is still M-C-squared.  So, yes, I am a conservative. And gay.  Welcome to Milo’s world.

The real problem is probably the gratuitous nature of my speech.  I report to no one.  I try to play devil’s advocate for everything, bring up all possible arguments.  I would be more useful, say, working in intelligence, which might have been my career had I grown up in a later, more tolerant or accepting time.

As Milo has pointed out, a lot of times the Left especially (and sometimes the populist alt-right) doesn’t want to allow constructive counter arguments to be made, especially by intelleculoid “Uncle Tom’s” in their midsts.   What partisan leadership sees is resurrecting old chestnuts that could be brought back to oppress or marginalize less competitive individuals in their groups.  After all, at a certain moral level, almost any goal can be “rationalized”.  A good example of this problem has occurred with HIV issues, when public health arguments, while valid (up to a point) can be used as an excuse for stigmatization or exclusion of gay men, a problem we had in the 1980s.  Leadership of activist groups want obedience and consistency of messages among supporters, not people who ask (and particularly self-publish) analytic policy questions on their own.

But that is what I do.   I want to keep an eye on the big picture, especially civilization -changing threats, not just local issues tied to my own identity groups.  That is how I make a difference, in the long run.  At least now   Maybe not forever.

So much for “Hobby Lobby”.

(Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 9:30 PM EDT)

Rooting for a pro-sports team is a primitive example of “belonging”, even tribalism

Here’s a good example of “belonging” from an individualist.

I’ve often followed baseball teams closely, and sometimes pro-football, even though I don’t play sports well.

I guess I was introduced to baseball around 1953, seeing the Senators lose an extra inning game on television at the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.  A win for your team was a temporary fix, a chanc to “feel good”.

But the Washington Senators were bad, really bad, in the 1950s, from 1954 on.  In 1958, they had an interesting start (sweeping a Memorial Day doubleheader in Yankee Stadium), but ended the season with 13 straight losses, where they scored few runs.  (in one stretch they lost five games by the score of 2-0).  In 1959, they again started fair, but lost 18 in  run in July  and August, including all 14 games on a “western trip”.  I remember a Post headline at the barber shop, “A’s hop on Pascual too, 6-1”.

The Griffith family owned the team, and didn’t care.  The racism in Washington at the time affected the attitude toward the team and led to low attendance. The Senators sometimes had fair home run power, but little depth.  They were very vulnerable to injuries, as they could not put replacements on the field capable of hitting at a major league level.

The injury issue in professional sports gives us a lesson in existentialism. Even if a key home run slugger was beaned deliberately and is out for the season, his team gets no part credit for the fact that the loss was caused by someone else’s misconduct or malice.  Welcome to real life.

As I spent summers in Kipton, Ohio (the family drove out at the end of June every year, as my father then left me and mother there with grandmother and other relatives as he then worked traveling as a manufacturer’s representative – salesmanship again). So mother took us to baseball games in the Mistake by the Lake when the Senators came to Cleveland – one year the Senators actually won, behind Pascual, 4-0.  Another year Herb Score shut them out, 11-0.  I remember that dippy symmetrical wire fence in the Cleveland outfield.   We invented all kinds of ways to play whiffeball and variations of baseball with improvised fields on the Ohio farm, even with cardboard stadiums that we made ourselves to play like pinballs.

The Senators finished a good year finally as I entered my last year of high school, and then suddenly moved to Minnesota.  Washington got an expansion team, “The New Senators”.  There were predictions “they won’t be good enough”.  Well, the Senators swept the Twins at home the weekend I was on the Mount Washington NH field trip, and were 30-30 the day I graduated valedictorian from high school.  My math teacher (trig) rooted for them passionately.  But then the Senators went to Boston and got swept.  In a Sunday afternoon double header first game, which I watched at a mini church retreat in rural Maryland, the new Senators led 12-5 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and managed to lose 13-12.  The new Senators never recovered from that game, and lost 70 of their last 101 games, finishing 61-100.

When I was back in DC in 1971 working for the Navy Department, I woke up one October morning to a Washington again without baseball  Bob Short sold them out.  They became the Texas Rangers.

Expansion teams (as the Kansas City Royals have often proved with their small ball) tended to do better than expected over the years.  I would eventually get to follow the Texas Rangers (when I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988) and the Minnesota Twins (when I lived in Minneapolis 1997-2003).

All of this will fit in later when I talk further about “belonging to the group”   This really matter when things go south “for the individual”.  It may very well be everything in the afterlife.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 11:45 PM EDT)

 

North Korea is changing the state of play

My own perception of the greatest external threats to “my world” seems fickle and to change over time, sometimes suddenly.

When I was writing and editing my “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book in the mid 1990s (July 11, 2011 will be the 20th anniversary of publication) and building my arguments about how to lift the ban on gays in the military, I perceived another war in Korea as the most likely threat.  At the time, I was not really aware of the potentially grave threat to the homeland that radical Islam (then in the form of Al Qaeda) could pose, as 9/11 was still several years out.  I had been aware of the economic consequences of oil embargos since the 1970s, but that threat had receded with the oil gluts of the late 80s (with a real estate recession in Texas, where I had been living).

Indeed, until 9/11, I still believed Communism, or post-Communism (which North Korea exemplifies, although with a bizarre royal history) the biggest threat.  And, indeed, where the biggest threat within Communism lay had changed with time.  I remember a day at the Reception Station in US Army Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson SC in early 1968 where soldiers were saying it was much safer to go to Korea than to Vietnam.  At that time, it was.  It would not be now, as Korea is a flash point (with the whole of South Korea held hostage), whereas Vietnam is a more or less acceptable country. (I wouldn’t move there, but Anthony Bourdain had a good time there on his “Parts Unknown”.)  And although the Vietnam War got discredited with time, in the middle 1960s the “Domino Theory” to which President Johnson subscribed (and which Nixon had to solve by a fractured “peace with honor”) seemed credible enough to many of us, leading to the 1965 documentary “The War Game”.  Much of the argumentation in my first book regarding the military gay ban (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) referred back to earlier controversies over the male-only military draft and the possibility of “getting out of things” (as my own mother’s moral language put it) with student deferments.  It turned out, over time, that this unusual argument would be more effective than many people (who had forgotten the draft) expected  Discussions of resuming the draft (partly at the instigation of Charles Moskos) ignited again after 9/11.  They still go on, with a recent proposal to include women in Selective Service registration.

How serious is the threat to “average Americans”?  I’ve put together a few links in mainstream sources that analyze the risks and policy choices.

A few general observations are in order. One is that there is still some residual controversy over whether the July 4 test represented a true ICBM or an intermediate range device. But the best intelligence suggests that the missile comprised two stages, with the upper stage a new design.  ICBM’s have two to four stages.  Another observation is that North Korea is making much faster progress with missile technology than had been expected even a yea ago.  Still, DPRK would face tremendous challenges guiding a missile all the way to the continental US (as Tom Foreman has explained on CNN). And the DPRK does have nuclear weapons, but miniaturizing them to fit on ICBM’s will still be a major feat.  Still, the acceleration of DPRK’s progress is alarming.  It sounds conceivable that an ICBM nuclear threat to the US west coast could exist as early as 2019.  It’s not clear from media reports (and from classification of information) just how effective NORAD would be at stopping a missile, although there have been successful defensive tests recently.

In the meantime, North Korea can hold civilians in South Korea and even Japan hostage with its current weaponry.

North Korea’s motive is said to provide a deterrent from American attempts to upend the regime of Kim Song Un, who (like his father) is well aware of what happened to Qadaffi and Saddam Hussein.  Fox News may well call North Korea a mob state (“mobocracy”) that will do anything to survive as a mob family. But Un seems particularly sensitive to personal insults (as is Donald Trump, ironically).  There is evidence of the DPRK’s engagement of computer hackers (sending its own prime to school for this) even to punish western private companies like Sony Pictures (“The Interview”).  Could this extend to western private citizens?  Could he throw a tantrum and release a missile over an insult, despite his desire to “survive” obvious retaliation?

There is still another disturbing wrinkle.  Wednesday night, July 5, former CIA director James Woolsey appeared on Don Lemon’s show on CNN at 10 PM EDT and reiterated his claim that North Korea can launch an EMP attack against the US now from a satellite and has been able to do so since 2013.  Woolsey said that Trump is naïve about the real threat at that the ICBM issue really is superfluous.   I had covered this grim possibility in a posting here March 7.  Many other authorities consider this claim largely discredited, however.

Anthony Cordesman, however, this morning suggested on CNN that Trump could consider a limited military strike including an EMP attack on North Korea (which does not require nuclear weapons for more local effects).  But if North Korea has EMP attack capabilities from a satellite now, wouldn’t that invite an EMP attack on the U.S., as catastrophic retaliation (“One Second After”).  DPRK could even retaliate this way to a private insult (the Warmbier tragedy is indeed a dire warning).  I have no idea whether NORAD can disable or remove a hostile foreign satellite.

Of course, all of this brings up the question of civilian disaster preparedness and even “radical hospitality”.  I see a lot of material from doomsday preppers on Facebook all the time, on topics ranging from “bug-out” locations to sewing skills (especially from “Survival Mom”).  I’m personally an existentialist when it comes to these matters, and I won’t get further into the personal moralizing today.  I do think an issue like this calls into question a kind of “rich young ruler problem”, about putting all of one’s own life into orderly civilization and depending on it.

But another question comes up, why does an amateur blogger like me even dare to touch a subject like this.  Blogs are supposed to help people with specifics, so says Blogtyrant.  A lot of people see this kind of posting as rude, because most people believe they can’t do anything about external global catastrophes anyway (although they will march in climate change demonstrations, before returning to their identity politics).  My own life as an individual, however, has always been on the precipice of being affected by major events.  True, it may be related to my aversion to unwelcome personal interdependence.  More about that later.

I do think there are a few issues where the media has totally missed the boat, and not out of desire to spread fake news or support political correctness.  Power grid security is one of the biggest of the issues, and the conservative media companies (like Sinclair Broadcasting) seem closer to covering it right.

New York Times:  Surgical strike; Tough action; Five blunt truths

CNN

Vox:  Missile test explainedFive ways to spin out of control; North Korea history

CSIS Cordesman

(There are more links on March 7 posting and comments.)

(Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

Hawking’s warning about elitism v. populism rings true for me

Stephen Hawking authored an op-ed in December, 2016, shortly after Trump’s win, in which we warned about the existential dangers from inequality, especially wealth inequality as well as income, as well as cognition inequality.  The original article is in the Guardian, here.

We have the ability to destroy the planet, whether with nuclear weapons or by allowing runaway climate change.  But we don’t have the ability to escape it (as with the “space ark” in the NatGeo film “Evacuate Earth”) and won’t for at least a century.  Hawking has previously warned, in fact, that we have about another century to find a new home.

Indeed, that undertaking would be no picnic. Imagine pre-selecting those to be “saved” or literally “raptured” onto a spacecraft, having to reproduce for generations, maybe even to reach an exoplanet near Proxima Centauri, which may well be tidally locked.   (This problem is related to a set-up in my novel “Angel’s Brother”).

Hawking talks about the dangers of elitism, and in one paragraph seems to characterize himself as one of the elites drawing the indignation of populists on both the far Left and the alt-Right.  Without his superior intellect and communication skills and considerable support, he would have become “just another pitifully dependent disabled person. “The Theory of Everything” (2014) did document how his disability came on to him quickly as a young man, although he was able to marry and have a family.  In a distant way, his self-commentary perhaps parallels mine, especially in my 2014 DADT-III book. I’ll take this further in future posts.   I know what he is saying.  If you take advantage of the system and avoid the “people” (like on the lower deck of the “Titanic”) and something happens, your end can get ugly indeed.

Along these lines, I’ll share a friend’s link on the different styles of thinking (elites, the “Democrats are capitalists” crowd of Nancy Pelosi) vs. real people, where Berkeley’s George Lakoff warns, “Don’t count out Trump”.  I tend to think about policies and winning arguments rather than “selling” or “conversions”  My mother used to talk about “real life”.

I’ll share Lindy West’s op-ed “Save the First Amendment” (or “Save Free Speech from Trolls”, in the New York Times Sunday Review July 2, somewhat convoluted by pertinent to elitism.   I’m remined of a 2005 Washington Times editorial “Suffocating the First Amendment”, which had figured into a major incident in my life.

The Guardian, by the way, is pimping for donations.  (So does Truthout many other sites.)  I find it unacceptable indeed to let others speak for me.  There goes false pride again.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 4, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

As “Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” approaches, the doomsday debate heats up

Just as “The Event” approaches July 12, I got into more debate over network neutrality expiration in the U.S. on Facebook yesterday, and here is a summary of the latest in my own following of the topic.

If you want to make a comment to the FCC (before July 17), go to the “browse-popular-proceedings” link, where you can search and look for comments people have already made. The proper from to submit an “express comment” seems to be this one.

The FCC has already been bombarded by spam comments, some of them hateful or even racist toward the FCC chairman, according to this story on the Verge (Vox Media).

The Internet and Television Association makes this comment, reaffirming its commitment to an “open Internet”, which it followed up with paid print newspaper ads.  The New York Times had thrown cold water on Pai’s promised of “voluntary compliance” with no-throttle ethics in this editorial late in April.

But back in April, Rand Fishkin, on a Marketing Industry WhiteBoard, wrote a particularly telling predictive analysis of what could happen over time. The comments (closed now) add a lot to the debate and are well worth reading.

The most likely adverse scenario (which would probably take two or three years to develop) sounds like it comes out of the T-Mobile’s “illegal” plan a few months back to offer a bare-bones service that didn’t offer full Internet. There would seem to be a possibility that the telecom industry could treat websites as cable channels. It sounds like cheap, basic plans could offer families (especially consumers not particularly interested in the Web, or those wanting to shield small children) only a few sites favored by the ISP. More expensive plans could offer everything, as we know it today, with the Cadillac plans offering super high speeds in some areas. A small business owner could have to consider whether to pay for hookup so that lower-income or less wired people could find the business online. It might not be worth it. This could be a serious hindrance for some kinds of small businesses, especially tech innovations. But I’ve seen elements of this debate before, as with COPA a few years ago (as to how to screen objectionable content from minors).

This kind of development might not affect a blogger (with my “do ask do tell” model) like me much, because, frankly, I probably interact mostly with the choir, with people who want to be wired all the time anyway. Not to be offensive, but I doubt very many “blue collar” families in “Trump country” find me anyway.

This sort of a development sounds like a bigger threat to artists and musicians who often sell directly through their own domains (which POD publishers today try to goad authors into doing with volume discounts, bypassing Amazon laziness).

That’s one reasons there are some “collective” sites like Bandcamp (musicians) and Hubspace (writers) which probably offer some supervision and could offer bargaining power in a no-net envurinment. Bandcamp is interesting, as I know a number of composers and performers (especially in the classical music area) in New York, Los Angeles, and overseas. The classical music industry has a commissioning business model for new works, which can create certain ethical tensions. Some artists are starting to rely on Bandcamp more, and even want to train consumers to learn to buy from it, and get used to PayPal, rather than the laziness of the rich-man’s Amazon. Bandcamp was also developed as a way to encourage consumers to pay reasonably for content rather than use illegal downloads or get lazy with Youtube; it tries to balance out the “Its free” problem (previous posting).

Until now, it’s been considered more “professional” for artists and writers to develop their own WordPress sites under their own domain names. “No-net-neutrality” could change this, encouraging collectives and also throwing people back to free platforms like Blogger and free WordPress – but can we count on the business models for these platforms to last forever, given the resistance of the public to (including me) to engage ads (partly out of valid security and privacy concerns)? In the past few years, I’ve generally come to agree with pundits (like Blogger’s Nitecruz) that you shouldn’t depend on someone else’s free service.

I’ve also noted that hosting companies like Blue Host could help assuage the problem with subdomain and add-on structures that they have already set up. I recently had an informal chat with Site Lock on how all this works.

I note the debate over whether bloggers need specific attention to SEO, and whether that would change as net neutrality in the U.S. dissolves. I think it’s particularly important for people who depend on selling to others from a small business and whose website really can bring in sales.  That’s not true of all small businesses, and it’s not true of “provocateur” (yes, Milo!!) blogs like mine.  For these, the content text itself seems to carry in visitors.  “Blogtyrant’s” idea of email subscription mailing lists (in these days when people fight off spam as a security threat) seems to make the most sense to narrow niche businesses with customers who have specific needs that the business owner serves, including with its online activity. Remember the listservers (pre-social media) of the 1990s.

Still, the long range fallout from a “no net neutrality” position in the US could be pressure on small, neighborhood businesses. I think about my favorite gay disco, Town DC, which will close because of pressure big corporate real estate in another year. My favorite Westover Market and Beer Garden in Arlington could face similar pressures eventually, after all it has put into the business. I think of the independent book stores (that used to include Lambda Rising) which my POD publisher pesters me to cater to. I think of independent authors who sell books in higher volumes from their own sites than I do. Some local businesses are truly “local” and may not be affected as much by national web policies as they already depend on foot traffic. But the overall trend from loss of net neutrality could even be more pressure on small businesses to disappear or be bought out by large corporations.

In a recent op-ed, David Brooks noted that conservative philosophy, properly applied, emphasizes local activity, people helping one another, and local ownership of enterprise, and initiative.  That accompanies personal freedom at individualized levels, as Andrew Sullivan argued so well in the 1990s. What worries me is that the Trump administration seems to view conservatism as Putin-style oligarchy, where everyone is “rightsized” into some role of national purpose.

I’m not much into joining collective demonstrations simply against the “rich” or those “better off” than I am, as I am likewise more privileged than some people. I like to target my activity where I can make a real difference in how a policy turns out (I did this pretty well with “gays in the military” some years ago) by encouraging critical thinking. As a general matter, telecom, like any industry (most of all, banking), needs some regulation in the public interest once there are too few companies for genuine competition. (That’s partly what anti-trust is all about.) But you could say an individual like me, who doesn’t have a stake in life with specific dependents, ought to be reined in when my operations don’t pay their own way. Fairness looks both ways. When seeking regulation (just as with health care) be careful what you ask for.

(Posted: Friday, June 30, 2017 at 1:45 PM EDT)

Update: July 12

Report on my visit to a demonstration at the Capitol, here.