Coercion from others: how we deal with it is an important component of character

I won’t keep up with the counter volleying of rhetoric over Trump and his apparent deferral to his base. It seems like the alt-right “started it” fully intending to become combative in Charlottesville (we need not re-enumerate all the groups) and the “Left” (just some of it) believed it needed to become combative to defend itself.

I don’t join other people’s mass movements, or become combative myself to protect other people – and yes, I don’t have my own kids so I very much resent it when others expect this of me. Part of me sees simply joining up in claiming group systemic oppression as a sign of personal weakness. If I was “better” I wouldn’t need to.

We all grow up with coercion, and how we deal with becomes a character issue.

Our parents apply coercion as we grow up, until we gradually become mature enough to accept responsibility for our own choices. At an individual level, accepting responsibility for the direct consequences of personal choices certainly form the libertarian idea of personal morality. But in a real world, it’s important to take one’s part as a member of the group – family, community, religious affiliation, cultural affinity, or country. That means sharing some of the “chores” of the group (work for which usually monetary compensation is of little or no importance), common risks, and particularly the consequences of group hostility (warfare) against the group. The plot of “Romeo and Juliet” lives at several levels.

There is tension between individualized personal responsibility, and accountability to a group. A very good example is that an individual level, we don’t want people to have children until they are ready to raise them (which usually means in a legally recognized marriage, which today could be same-sex). With some people, that will tend to result in never having children. That can be bad for the future of some groups or countries, which fear being underpopulated. This tension, over procreation, as far as I am concerned, has always been at the heart of coercive behavior by many religions and many governments (now days, generally non-Western) against homosexuals and transgender. Part of the issue is that until more recent times, most cultures perceived it was important that most people perform according to their biological genders, including the capacity of males, becoming combative and fungible when necessary, to protect the women and children in the tribe – its genetic future. Consider how this plays out with our history with the military draft and controversy today over whether women should be required to register for Selective Service (or whether there should be conscription at all.)  In those days, personal “cowardice” (a somewhat dying concept) had a distinctly physical aspect. Today, childless people still have to take care of aging parents (even more so as people live longer with falling birthrates), and often wind up raising siblings’ children.

All of this winds up being experienced as coercion – what you have to do, because if you don’t, someone else will have to take the risk and possibly make the sacrifice. So rather than dividing people into subgroups according to various abilities, we tend to judge everyone on one continuum, or at least I did.  I would say that in “Gone with the Wind“, Scarlet O’Hara has to deal with coercion, but “you” can be offended because her slaves had needed to deal with so much more, as indeed they had.

But as I moved into adulthood, I moved into different groups. In the mid 1970s, as I entered my thirties in New York City, that group was the Ninth Street Center in New York City (the East Village), now the Paul Rosenfels Community. I would tend to cherry pick the people I met for those who satisfied my need for “upward affiliation”. That would irritate or disappoint some others. In fact, the whole idea of personal growth seemed to revolve around an existential challenge that we called “creativity”, which in turn meant learning new ways to care about and provide for other people (including, sometimes, of other races, or those who were much less glamorous or even much less intact) without the obvious catalyst of conventional sexual excitement and then sexual intercourse leading to having one’s own children, who would become “the” dependents. It was caring without an obvious personal lineage. Yet, what I sometimes experienced in the group was “coercion”.   In any group, there are those in charge. There is volunteer work to be done (like washing dishes after those Saturday night potluck suppers, in the days when there was no escape from the smoke), in order to share one’s portion of the physical labor of the group.

As I move further into adult life, I became, somewhat, the Pharisee, the watcher, and recorder, being effective politically without having to run for anything or ask for money – ironically that sometimes seems as “Dangerous” (Milo-speak) as conventional partisan bickering. Yes, the capability to do this could be yanked away from me by extreme legislation or perhaps direct hostility. I see that as coercion.  People have hinted, with some breath of a threat, “Why don’t you shut up and shut down online, and then volunteer for us?”  Well, if I didn’t have my own mission and own message (other than letting a group be my voice) I wouldn’t be effective as a volunteer (particularly to remedy claimed systemic group oppression and victimization).  But, I could be forced to, unexpectedly and unforeseeably, perhaps. Then maybe I have no choice to work for “you” in order to “live”.  That kind of bargaining with my life, starting perhaps with a knock on the door, is coercion.

So then we come back to some of the more dangerous issues today for the whole country – nuclear weapons, safety of the power grid. Also, civil disorder (which, yes, was most recently perpetrated by the radical right) and terrorism from various sources, by no means always Islamist. The end result is that anyone can be placed into a situation of subservience and helplessness by the “coercion” of another or others. Anyone can wind up housed in a shelter by the Red Cross or other charity. Anyone can experience expropriation and be forced to learn how “the others” have to live, suddenly. The fact is, it is the individuals in a country who bear the ultimate consequences (and therefore “responsibility”) of what their politicians do, even if those consequences are delivered by ISIS or by Kim Jong Un.  In that sense, anyone is a potential conscript or combatant. That’s why I see “victimhood” as so ugly (nothing to be proud of) and I call it “casualty-hood” and yet to survive it and rise again, from whatever station in life events place you, seems so essential to resilience and to future generations, if we are to have a future at all.

And, yet, I believe in civilization. I believe in law and order. But there are a few grave threats (like the power grid issue, which I have covered here before) that we must solve (without partisanship) if we are not to leave the world to the doomsday preppers. I would have nothing to contribute to the world depicted in NBC’s series “Revolution”. Don’t ask me to stick around for it.

(Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)

 

 

 

Duty, risk-taking, helping others, and self-promotion

It’s a vague and general principle in the insurance business that some activities are more readily underwritten when there is outside, third-party supervision of the endeavors.

That gets to be testy when the aim is to help others.

I wrote my three books and developed my websites and blogs without supervision. The lack of peer supervision was actually an issue back in the Summer of 2001 when I was turned down for a renewal of a “media perils” individual policy that National Writers Union was selling as an intermediary.

Yes, I took some risks, and I probably knew what I was doing better than a lot of amateur writers, with regard to areas like copyright and defamation. I did become infatuated with the implications of my own narrative, which are considerable.  I did look forward to the fame, or at least notoriety. But was I helping anyone?

Well, the central topic of the first book was “gays in the military,” and in fact I knew a number of the servicemembers fighting the ban (and the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy) well, at least by correspondence.  I would not have desired a romantic relationship with any or many of them, but I did feel legitimately connected in some personal way. I think I helped, although indirectly.  My staying in the debate for so many years in the search engines did help make the final repeal in 2010-2011 more likely.

But I also had made some unusual arguments.  They were based in part on accepting the idea of duty, of the necessity for shared sacrifice and resilience.  Specifically, I talked about the Vietnam era military draft and my own experience with it, and about the idea that it was still possible to reinstate it.  I recalled all too well the controversy over student deferments, implied cowardice, and the connection between risk and vulnerability.

I’ve thought about the “duty” concept in connection to the need for refugees and asylum seekers for assistance, sometimes very personalized.  One idea that comes through in discussions, especially with lawyers, that anyone offering hosting or major support should have some third-party supervision.  That usually would come from a social services agency, or possibly a faith-based group, as well sometimes local or state agencies.  Of course, the capacity of individuals to offer this has become muddled by Donald Trump and all his flailing and failing travel bans.  The desirable supervision is much better established in Canada (and some European countries) where sponsorship comes with some legally-driven responsibilities comparable, say, to foster care.  In the United States, given the political climate, the volume of people assisted is lower, and the risk or cost, whatever that is, gets spread out among more people.  The situation is even murkier for asylum seekers than for refugees, since their access to benefits and work permission is less, as has been explained here before.

I don’t yet know how this will turn out for me, but I agree that any adherence to “duty” would require some supervision.  So, I am fussier with this than I was with the risk management for my own writing.  But what about the people?  True, I don’t feel personally as connected to the people in this situation as I was with the military issue.  I have to admit that I have led a somewhat sheltered life.  For most of my adult life, the “system” has actually worked for me, and I have been associated with others who more or less play by the rules and benefit from doing so.  Since retiring, I’ve seen that the interpersonal aspects of need do bring on a certain culture shock. The system simply does not work for a lot of poorer people, who sometimes find that they have no reason to play by the same rules, but who do tie into social capital.  The system also fails “different” people, some not as well off as “Smallville‘s” teen Clark Kent. I can understand duty (accompanying “privilege”), but the meaning expected to be attached to helping others in a much more personal way is rather alien to me.

The whole question of housing refugees and asylum seekers (and I’ll even limit the scope of this remark to assuming “legal” presence in the U.S.) fits into a bigger idea about social resilience and radical hospitality, most of all for those (like me) with “accidentally” inherited property.  I do recall that after Hurricane Katrina there was a call for helping to house people in other states (sometimes in homes, sometimes with relatives).  Even though most people want to be near their homes to rebuild after disaster, this sort of need (a kind of “emergency bnb” lower-case) could come back again after earthquakes or major terror strikes or even a hostile attack (North Korea is starting to look really dangerous).  In the worst cases, the nation’s survival could depend on it.

(Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

I dodge another big storm, and maybe stretch my luck

Today, my inherited Drogheda (e.g., “The Thorn Birds”, 1983  — and, yes, the pastor played by Richard Chamberlain eventually breaks down and cries) dodged another round of violent storms.  But, with time, accumulation of more opportunities for bad luck, and, yes, climate change, I know that disaster can happen to me.  None of us is above the possibility of having to deal with life in a shelter someday.  None of us is above needing others (and I could say, needing God).

This time around, it was particularly scary indeed, as the reports of tornados in the upper Midwest, popping out of nothing, kept coming on.  Even in the relatively safer location of the Mid-Atlantic, luck could eventually run out.

Most of my life, and especially during my boyhood, I’ve experienced physical stability, without a lot of danger from the outside world.  But, throughout history, most communities (all the way to whole nations) have had to deal with disruptions from outside threats.  That reality helps create a moral viewpoint where every “citizen” has to carry his or her own weight, metaphorically speaking. People have to step up to challenges and take responsibilities they did not necessarily choose (in the past, closely tied to gender), for the good of others in their communities, especially their families.  The severe weather scare today reminds me that my luck can run out.

So people “who are different” are pressured to conform to the adaptive needs of their origins.  I grew up in a particularly ambiguous position, where it was not clear whether I was genuinely disabled, or just mooching on the manual labor and risks others have to endure, even in my place.

That’s why I experience “morality” as an individual thing.  The individual ultimately will experience “it is what it is” – for him (or her) as an individual, and in sharing the “karma” of his larger group associations (usually starting with family).  That’s also why I don’t jump to “go to bat for” someone just because he or she belongs to a marginalized group.  But it also helps explain why “upward affiliation” became so tantalizing for me.  Ultimately, I dreamt of becoming someone better than me.  That may be the high point of distributed consciousness.

This whole process obviously leads to an obvious contradiction.  Josh Groban may have it right when he sings “You life me up” and it goes both ways.

My own life narrative threads on this idea, both in my own personal experience in sexuality and in how I handled my own speech later.   The way people reacted provides some pretty good fuel for inductive reasoning.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 9:15 PM EST)

It’s important to know the history of homophobia, and how it was a proxy for much more

There is a lot of apprehension about the effect a Trump administration could have on “LGBTQ” rights (or, depending on your viewpoint, “LGBTQ people”).  The concern is not so much from Trump’s actions (he seemed OK with this issue on his show “The Apprentice” with gay candidates and obviously would have considered them equally), but with some of his proposed appointments to the administration, as well as Vice President Pence.

While the “popular” strategy on the Left, has been the “as a people” approach (remedying discrimination against a group), I’ve always gone at this from the libertarian to conservative issue:  why is one adult’s consensual sex life another adult’s (other than a spouse) business?  Why was it the business, in the past, of governments, churches, schools, employers, landlords, etc?

For indeed, in the distant past, the world very much interfered with my life, with huge consequences shaping the course of a whole adulthood, as it has for many other people. With all the rapid gains, most of all repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” and then marriage equality, and now in transgender areas (begrudgingly at times as with the bathroom bills),  and today’s fights over phony “religious freedom restoration act” bills, it’s very important that younger gay adults and teens understand the history, which even recently was challenging.  In the past, not only were gays “entrapped” in public restrooms; sometimes police raided gay establishments and invented false charges of public lewdness, leading to the concept of the “Mafia bar” in New York in the 1960s (during the 1964-65 World’s Fair, leading to Stonewall in 1969) and police harassment of bar patrons in Dallas in 1980.

From a libertarian perspective, there really seems to exist a delicious irony.  In the past, LGBTQ people (so to speak) were persecuted not for what they did but for what they didn’t do – which was “play ball: with carrying on families (biologically).  When I was expelled from William and Mary in 1961, the idea that being around me could threaten a roommate’s or dorm resident’s procreative potential was seen a  much bigger threat than would (the opposite risk of) an unwanted pregnancy or becoming a romantic rival for someone’s girlfriend. That sort of idea would get into the debate on gays in the military in the 1990s, and form an irony framing all of my writing. A corollary is that, in dorm life for me, insecure men talked as if seeing someone like me succeed with women would make them feel more secure about their own prospects, as part of herd thinking.

Why were things “the way they were”? One observation stands out:  tribal culture.  Western civilization, for all its politics, developed from Abrahamic religions, all of which comprised tribal groups that had to be concerned with their group survival against enemies, whether religious, political, or natural.  Religious moral codes (the Ten Commandments seem uncontroversial, but not a lot of other passages in the Old Testament)  were developed with respect to risks to the sustainability of groups.  Moral codes, imposing a certain uniformity of culture and behavior on everyone in a group, tend to give group life “meaning” for a lot of people, so a lot of people become “addicted” to looking at others through these moral ideas, especially “outsiders” (read immigrants, or people of other races, today).  Homosexuality, with its obvious potential to detract from procreation, was seen as a proxy behavior for any existential threat to the long term survival of the group.  The capability of looking at the world through libertartian lens is relatively modern, and becomes easier in richer cultures with higher standards of living and with political and infrastructure stability.  But this capacity means less addiction to one’s own perceptions and more openness to interacting with others on terms other than one’s own – a difficult sell for many people.   But this is a necessary context for most of the arguments below;  the freedom to live just according to one’s own expectations from other peoples can, over time, inadvertently invite authoritarianism.

I have to add a caveat: some native societies, in North America and around the world, have been quite tolerant of gender ambiguity, willing to place “queer” people into positions of spiritual authority.

But now ;let’s run through the five big areas. I’ll work inside-out, inductively, and start with the most specific problems first.

Issue 1: Public Health

I had my “second coming” in the 1970s and I knew vaguely that typical “promiscuous” gay male “lifestyles” could increase the risk of traditional venereal diseases, and I often heard people talk about hepatitis (especially B). My last year in New York City, 1978, some things happened that gave me reason to wonder if something else could be going on.  I moved to Dallas for a new job at the start of 1979, and that could have saved my life.

In early 1983, about a year before the CDC announced the discovery of HTLV-III (later known as HIV-I) a conservative state representative from Amarillo introduced a bill (HR 2138) that would have reinforced the Texas sodomy law (2106) and banned homosexuals from most occupations (let alone the military). Prompt activism by the Dallas Gay Alliance kept it from getting out of committee.  A group called the “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS” advanced a theory saying that the chain-letter transmission of the then unidentified virus by anal intercourse within the gay male community threatened the general population because it amplified a dangerous virus that could then mutate and change transmissibility. Groups like DDAA jumped on CDC’s observation that the disease did not seem to transmit easily from women to men in “normal” intercourse, so heterosexual chains, well known with conventional venereal diseases or STD’s, would not sustain with AIDS.

We know that this (the speculated increase in contagion) did not happen.  As in the old series “Science Fiction Theory” with Truman Bradley, we could ask, could it happen?  Well, is that like a woman changing into a plant, as in one episode?  I sound sarcastic.  It’s unusual for viruses to change transmissibility, but yet they can cross species.  If a virus got more contagious, it would probably become much less virulent. That would mean that this particular virus would need to infect other kinds of cells (like in the lungs or GI tract).  One possibility was that it could become an arbovirus (and in fact the New York Native, Charles Ortleb’s little newspaper in the 1980s, speculated about an arbovirus, African Swine Fever, or ASFV, being experimented with by the government on Long Island.  That actually could have been very dangerous politically.  One could imagine such arguments being made about Zika now.

The credibility of this argument waned with time, as HIV did not change its basic behavior.  By definition, the opportunistic infections carried by PWA’s were unlikely to affect people with normal immune systems.  Even so, one cannot completely eliminate some other “science fiction movie” scenario that imagination can conjure.  The transmission models for viruses attractive to terrorists (like avian influenza, maybe) are much more aggressive.  Social distance becomes an issue, but that’s not a problem just in the gay community.

The cost of covering insurance for HIV (including PrEP and protease inhibitors) could become a hot button problem as Trump’s minions replace Obamacare (in fact, it’s a problem now).  Pence, back in 2000, wanted to slash AIDS funding and support “conversion therapy”, with shallow but curiously pernicious logic “with no heart”.

Lesbians, it should be remembered, actually have fewer sexually transmitted diseases than straight women.  Gender is not always “fair” in nature.

Issue 2: Procreation

I think that historically, most homophobia is centered on the (not completely correct) idea that homosexuals don’t reproduce and strengthen the population.  Resources (maybe more votes) in this theory should go to people responsible for offspring (or maybe adopting children).

The tacky idea was that “homosexuals don’t recruit, so they must recruit”, at least in the mindset of the Westboro Baptist Church.  It also sounds like the mindset in Russia.

Remember, in Russia, sodomy was made legal in 1993, and the 2013 anti-propaganda law was only about talking about it, or “promoting” it.  Vladimir Putin, have promoted “conception days” for a sparsely populated country losing people and its former greatness, is thinking that speech about homosexuality will give less “secure” males (or “waverers”) the idea that having a family with children isn’t worth it, is too much or a personal encumbrance against other goals, a notion that lives at the heart of the culture wars. Volokh (a law professor) takes us this argument in this post.

This may be the most relevant argument in my own life, since I am an only child.  That’s unusual, as gay men tend not to be first-born males (which adds to biological epigenetic theories).  But arguably, I deprived my parents a “lineage” which, in some religious thought, matters for the afterlife.

Issue 3: Relativity and the Observer, or Distraction

One of Einstein’s ideas in his relativity theories was that objects are affected by the observer.  OK, this comes down to the idea that sometimes people don’t like to be stared at, and scoped.  The straight world understands that women don’t like this (maybe Donald Trump doesn’t, judging from his comments to Billy Bush, all that locker room talk).  But men often object to being “evaluated” by other men, too.  I can remember the phrase, back to around 1972, “I don’t notice men’s bods.”  Arguably, straight men who are less than perfect physically don’t like the idea that other men notice how they tack up against potential competition.  If these (heterosexual) men are allowed to keep male physical appearance (compared to female) outside the area of allowable public awareness, weaker men have a better chance of finding female mates.

I documented in DADT-1 that my roommate at William and Mary in 1961  feared he would become impotent if he continued living near me (he put it in more graphic terms).  This sort of thing is what bothered the likes of Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos back in 1993 when Bill Clinton was forced to settle for “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military.

The distraction issue, in less wealthy and less stable societies, is significant because such societies tend to expect men to bond together when necessary to protect women and children in their communities. In recent years, in western countries, this has become less significant socially.  Better educated men generally are not as likely to feel distracted when in an environment in which they know homosexuals are present.  Actually, there was very little or no distraction during the Vietnam era, because of the authoritarian atmosphere, and the fact that when there was draft, people tended to support a double standard, pretending one thing and quietly acknowledging another.  Similarly, the military did not try to discharge gay soldiers once deployed in Iraq because of severe “stop-loss” needs.

So the “distraction” argument tends to wane when there are more pressing problems around.  To an individualist, even an Ayn Rand follower, this sort of argument sounds self-deprecating.  But people who feel this way typically have much more invested in group identity, especially associated with religious beliefs.

There have been films about this kind of problem, like “Rebirth”, which presents a self-help commune that doesn’t allow “spectators” because watchers can criticize people with skin in the game.

Issue 4: Relationism

Traditional marriage (or “complementation”, or even “complementaration”, see comment, Dec. 28 posting) is typically advanced by social conservatives (ranging from Rick Santorum to George Gilder, to the Family Research Council) as involving a certain amount of sacrifice by the man, for access to sexual intercourse (with children), buttressing his identity as a man.  The FRC especially was quick to note that men often show lower testosterone levels when caring for children (although that presumes that the old-fashioned  gender split with stay-at-home moms is breaking down). It used to be a standing joke that men gain weight and develop pot bellies after getting married – become less sexually attractive (go bald, too), having made their one conquest. That doesn’t need to happen, of course, and many times does not.  But it still sets up a curious admission that seems self-deprecating to an individualist.  Indeed, Allan C. Carlson, in “Family Matters” (1989) had written that traditional families would have to deal with or be protected from the “logical implications of radical individualism”.

Indeed, when one has kids, one is “encumbered” in a sense and changes into a new person, and takes on new goals and a new identity.  Well, maybe not always.  Donald Trump didn’t.  But one could be competing with less encumbered childless people who can lowball him in the workplace.

The debate over paid family leave inverts this situation, but so does the fact that childless people can be in a real bind with faced with the demands of eldercare, as I was.

“Relationism” has a lot to do with finding meaning in an intimate or deeply relationship with a dependent, the opposite of “upward affiliation”.  Having a family and becoming a parent the traditional way is the most straightforward way to grow into relational living (that’s Carlson and Mero and “The Natural Family”).  But love within the family needs to branch out, and give the individual the capacity to get beyond his comfort zone in dealing with need interpersonally;  this is an existential change to a sense of identity for a lot of people, myself included.  It does get personal.

Issue 5: Right-sizing

The last issue is the most nebulous, but I had written about this before (Oct. 3).  There is a general understanding that in western culture some inequality is inevitable if people are going to have incentives to innovate, and raise the living standards for everybody.  But there is also an idea that if everybody has to follow the same rules in some sensitive areas (like sexuality), life has more “meaning” for everybody, and wealth and income inequality is more acceptable.  It’s the “everybody else should have to deal with what I have to deal with” idea.  Life isn’t fair, but it’s our best shot.

There is the fear that the elevation of the cultural norm of “husband and father”, for men who otherwise don’t distinguish themselves as individuals, could be diluted.  There’s the idea that gays are “getting out of things” (supporting families) — an idea that the religious right sometimes hijacked early in the AIDS epidemic by calling gays “spoiled sophisticates”. There’s the idea of allowing one’s sexuality to be used for the adaptive needs of the community around you.  There’s the idea that the value of the “less able” can only be ratified within a nuclear “natural” family structure where needs are known on the ground, and where everyone follows the same rules.

It may also have to do with resilience – the idea that a people, if challenged by a serious external calamity, could bounce back, even if individual people in the group accepted the idea of a lot of (otherwise uneven) personal sacrifice.  But this is an odious idea for modern western democracy generally, that we cannot count on our system to be there for us.   This is the moral mindset of much of the doomsday prepper crowd.

Conclusion:

Sexual orientation is not by itself an identity (as much as perhaps gender identity itself is). Male homosexuality, in western culture, is very prone to “upward affiliation” because of the competitive context of individualism (Chapter 7 of DADT-2).  That tends to exacerbate (through a sense of “proxy”) a perception of inequality and unfairness in some contexts and lead to -instability (Chap 6 of DADT-3).  The proxy behavior appearance tempts some authoritarian politicians and religious leaders to focus on homosexuality as some sort of fundamental threat to the long term survival of a group, instead of on personal responsibility in the much narrower sense of liberal culture.  This illusion also contributes to a belief among some traditionally married men that they are doing a good job providing for a family when actually they become vulnerable to loss of emotional investment in their marriages as the couples get older.  And the illusion may cover up some domestic violence by heterosexual men.

If I ponder this along with my own attitudes about the way people become important to me, I can see that a strict moral code, enforced on everyone, can provide an effective “firewall” against obligated to get into personal relationships with people whom you don’t want to make OK, or accepting the idea of having to become dependent on others (not of your choosing) yourself, because of the common hazards we must all share.

I have a correlated post on my “Do Ask Do Tell Notes” blog here.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

 

Does “Emergency BNB” provide a reasonable and scalable model for hosting asylum seekers, refugees, and maybe some homeless?

On Oct. 21 here, I did mention the site “Emergency BNB”, founded by Egyptian immigrant businessman Amr Arafa.

To my surprise, a story on CNN (October 21, 2016) by Camila De Chalus indicates that about 700 people or families around the U,S. have been willing to list their homes as potential hosts, link here.

It is called an “Airbnb for refugees” but no money can change hands, so it would not come under the regulations in many cities of offering private housing for rental.

The site is designed to help refugees (presumably that includes asylum seekers, who are legally in an even more compromised situation) and victims of domestic violence.

The article does say that hosts should expect to see documentation (like some sort of refugee immigration paperwork, or police reports or court restraining orders showing domestic violence) and that some applicants are turned down.

The site does have a short Wikipedia article, here.

There is a detailed story by Laura Bliss on Citylab in June 2016 here.

Shareable has a story on September 21, here.   Takepart compares it to “tweaking Aibnb” here .

The Washington Post had a bigger story Aug. 25 by Perry Stein, here.

One obvious question would be legal liability or risk for the host.  Some leases (maybe most) or homeowner’s associations might not permit it.  A host might hit bad luck and actually host a real criminal (the “Trojan horse” fear raised by Trump supporters).  A host could arguably be putting neighbors in danger, or could be liable for the misuse of his own high speed Internet connection (even if he or she supplied separate computers or smartphones).  Who would be responsible for the asylum seeker’s living expenses or health care costs?  Another good question would be, how long does the guest usually stay with the host?  Short term, or does he/she (or an entire family) live there long term?

It’s fair to compare the “risks” to offering your home for rental in Airbnb, and you can get insurance for some risks there.  People who “do” Airbnb may be more amendable to participating in a service like Emergency BNB.

One obvious question is whether the concept could be applied specifically to GLBTQ asylum seekers. A mission of Center Global of the DC Center (July 21). It’s significant that many of these are not allowed to work on their own and would need to become full dependents.

I have looked into this.  Generally, most gay organizations and churches have only fragmentary knowledge of the issue.  I’ve talked to two law firms in Virginia, and both imply no one should offer to do this without the services of a major social service agency to supervise the refugee (that doesn’t apply to the domestic violence part of the service).  I’ve tried to start a dialogue with Center Global and not gotten far yet.  Obviously the question of personal risk is unsettling.

In fact, the risk of playing “Samaritan” is as much a cultural question s a legal one.  People have different perceptions of their willingness to take risks for others outside their own families, or the moral ukase to do so.  It may be perceived as a question of faith (like that of the Rich Young Ruler, who had too much to lose).  People who interact in communities with strong social capital are better able to deal with this (even “under the table”) than feline people who do things on their own.  And some people may see hosting not so much as duty as a form of activism.

Personally, I would need to determine whether, in my situation, hosting is the “right” and even “expected” thing to do (more details ) .  That could set an example for others, and makes it hard to put on the table before any organization.

You can certainly extend this discussion tribally:  should we host our own homeless first?  But that isn’t generally expected as sharing behavior, as far as I can tell.

(Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 7:15 PM EST)

Guest post on “Kindness as an everyday habit” and an answer to bullying

Guest post:  “A 4-step Process for Making Kindness an Everyday Habit in 2017” by Gabriela van Rij 

When Lady Gaga recently told her fans that kindness – not wealth and fame – is what creates harmony in the world she may have been on to something.

Research has shown that being kind makes us happier and also is contagious, inspiring others to be kind as well. For example, one such study published in the Journal of Social Psychology linked performing acts of kindness to an increase in life satisfaction.

That’s why as people make their resolutions for the coming New Year, they should make up their minds to commit purposeful acts of kindness every day, says Gabriella van Rij, a kindness activist and author whose latest book is Watch Your Delivery.

“Making kindness a habit changes lives – your own life and others,” van Rij says. “I believe we’re born with innate kindness, but we’ve just forgotten about it because we’re always running. We’re just too busy doing other things and we need to remind ourselves to be kind.”

She says we as a society have dropped the ball on human kindness and it’s time we picked it back up.

“I truly believe that we are all born with innate kindness, but then the hand that feeds us or the environment makes us abandon it pretty fast,” van Rij says. “By the time we are 5, we have learned to compete and to strive for success. It’s time for a new measuring stick for success.”

She says by following a four-step process, people can put a little more kindness in the world and quickly fall into the habit of committing kindness every day:

• Be kind to yourself. It’s hard to have the patience to be kind to others if we can’t even take the time to be kind to ourselves. “This might seem selfish, but it’s not,” van Rij says. “By being kind to ourselves, we shape our attitude toward others.”
• Answer rudeness with kindness. This one is difficult, van Rij acknowledges. “When someone is rude to you, the first thing you do is instantly react and not always in a positive way,” she says. “And the second thing you do is say it’s about me. They were nasty to me.” But van Rij says it’s not about you, it’s about the emotion. By answering rudeness with kindness, you diffuse the situation and there’s also a certain satisfaction in seeing the change in the attitude of the person who was rude.
• Watch your delivery. The tone that accompanies your words is as important as what you are saying. Do you need to soften your tone? Does what you say sound more aggressive than what you mean? Body language also can send a message you didn’t intend, so be aware of your body language and your facial expressions.
• Acknowledge kindness when you see it. When you acknowledge the kind acts you see, that person will be encouraged to continue to spread kindness. Acknowledging kindness in others also will serve as a reminder to you about how you can show kindness.

“Unfortunately, one of the reasons we don’t always treat each other well is that we are a fear-based society, and fear only breeds more fear,” van Rij says. “But luckily there is an antidote because just as fear breeds more fear, I believe kindness grows more kindness.”

Author contact:

Avery Coffman
Print Campaign Manager
News and Experts
3748 Turman Loop #101
Wesley Chapel, FL 33544
Tel: 727-443-7115, Extension 214
Picture: Lakeland, FL (Mine, 2015).

(Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 at 2:45 PM EST)

Let’s give a reference on Cyberbulling , a topic mentioned by Melania Trump.  Note the use of the word “Resilience” in the organization’s strike page.

Does mandatory national service make sense now, in a free country, to promote risk-sharing and “egalitarianism”?

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Sunday, September 11, 2016, I looked at the Selective Service system, now possibly redundant, for any future military conscription.  It’s natural to ask whether it would make sense to extend the idea to national service.

I remember hearing proposals for national service after all the insider trading scandals on Wall Street starting in the late 1980s (or earlier, as in R. Foster Winans’s book “Trading Secrets”).

In early 2002, shortly after my “career-ending” layoff at the end of 2001, I did look at volunteering for the Peace Corps, and I went to an orientation session in Minneapolis.  But when I looked at the application form, it turned out they were looking for people with much more active social interaction (with children, for example, or the disabled) than I had experienced in the IT workplace as an “individual contributor”.  They even wanted personal references who could attest to the candidate’s interpersonal skills.  And, yes, the web presence I had built up in conjunction with my books could have been a problem overseas in underdeveloped countries.

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I recall, back in the 60s, that VISTA (Volunteers in Service for America) had some traction.  After 9/11, the government tried to promote Americorps but it seemed lost in its our bureaucracy.  The “Teach for America” program seemed to have some merit.

I think it’s unlikely a federal government bureaucracy can run service programs nearly was well as private non-profits, especially those that are faith-based (where, unfortunately, LGBTQ discrimination could still happen in some religions).

I think college-age people learn a lot from overseas projects that churches sponsor, with some risk, in the summers.  And churches often sponsor bus “camp” trips to volunteer after domestic disasters, but a lot of times volunteers are the ones who have to learn from more resilient rural residents who have to eke out a living in more hazardous places.

When I grew up, there was an expected time progression.  You were supposed to be in college by 18, and be graduated by 22.  Student deferments from the draft, morally controversial, somewhat sheltered the better off (and white), kept young men on this schedule if their grades were good enough. .

It’s natural  to think that national service could help solve the student debt problem,  Yes, there is help for veterans (link)   The Peace Corps has rather limited assistance that can help (link ).

I think the “libertarian” answer to student debt would more be that students should work more during their college years and often enough, start out adult lives with their own apartments and cars sooner.  This is particularly appealing for colleges located in technology areas (whether Silicon Valley, Austin TX, or the Research Triangle Park corridor in North Carolina), where there are plenty of companies that can give students a head start on the real world of work.   In fact, Peter Thiel gives fellowships to gifted students to drop out of college and start tech companies.

I recall in the summer of 1965, when I was still “living at home” and going to George Washington University, taking organ lessons at First Baptist Church from an 18-year-old organist Bill Evans who was a freshman at Peabody in Baltimore at the same time.

There are plenty of sites online that take sides on the national service debate.  This one mentions the mandatory risk taking (like the military).    Brookings offered a thoughtful discussion in 2002 by E J Dionne and Kayla Meltzer Drogosz.  Karen Whitney offers a piece for the “liberal” Huffington Post in 2012.   (Huffington has a piece against Teach for America.)   Richard Stengel proposed a detailed national service plan in Time Magazine in 2007 (“A Time to Service: The Case for National Service“) with many provocative components, including a Baby Bond, and various corps, such as Disaster Response, Senior, and Green. and a “summer of service”.   Most of the “pro” pieces come from a mindset of a certain forced egalitarianism, communitarianism, and statecraft.

During the time of “don’t ask don’t tell”, national service could have become relevant if the draft had been reinstated (as after 9/11).

One other facet off this comes to mind.  When I drive into rural areas, I see signs asking people to join volunteer fire departments – with all the risk-taking – everywhere.  Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had once mentioned the idea of joining one – I don’t know if MLB contracts would allow it.  I’m also reminded of the idea of Mormon missions – which the missionaries pay for themselves – but which sound like they involve so much religious proselytizing. Fire departments (as we say on CNN’s documentary on 9/11) involve a lot of communal living, just like the military, and back in the 1970s, before the lifting of the military ban could be taken seriously, their “forced intimacy” was sometimes used as ammunition against anti-GLBT discrimination laws.

Sebastian Junger offers a rather interesting argument in the video above, noting that humans are wired to survive together as a group and serve the common good, when necessary (see review of “Tribe” May 31 ).

Update: Oct. 1:  Hillary Clinton has proposed “National Service Reserve” on her own website.  She made some bluster of the fact that she tweeted about this at 3 AM while Donald Trump was indulging his fantasies about women’s desirability on Twitter.  While her proposal focuses on the service of young adults, it wounds logical to conceive as national service as periodic throughout a lifetime, but that would have a big effect on the courses of lives (like mine). Back in 2002, I did hear about a Peace Corps volunteer who had joined at 82.  On the other hand, not every (or even most) volunteer commitment should be viewed as “national service”; that would drain local volunteer projects.

Pictures:  from AARP’s “Meal Pack Challenge, as it ended, Monday, September 12, 2016.

(Published: Wednesday, Sept, 14m 2016 at 3:30 PM EDT)

Deregulation would probably help modern medicine cure cancer even with fewer side effects, but social capital matter too

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Malcolm Gladwell is perhaps the liberal-progressive correspondent to the “conservative” David Brooks.  Both columnists want to teach us how to “be good”, or perhaps just dutiful.   Gladwell, for example, has discussed the moral problematics of even being a football fan (even of the Fighting Irish) given the concussion problems.

Gladwell has a long column in the New Yorker, “Tough Medicine: a disturbing report from the front lines on the war on cancer”    .  The link was placed on Facebook by a friend who works in national security circles, and I tweeted it to Jack Andraka, the kid who invented the new pancreatic cancer test at a science fair – and also traded tweets on the idea that college students in dorms today should be vaccinated separately on both major forms of bacterial menigitis.

Gladwell summarizes what went on at NCI at NIH in the years shortly after my own “psychiatric” stay in 1962.  I even had an “occupational therapy” job in a lab where I worked with urine sediment specimens from cancer – mostly lymphoma—patients.  Little did I suspect that shortly after I left some of these patients would start excruciating but revolutionary rounds of chemotherapy, and undergo nights of violent vomiting and total hair loss in the process.

In the less regulated world at NCI, doctors found that they could cure  (or at least place in indefinite remission) lymphomas – particularly Hodgkin’s Disease – in patients able to withstand several cycles of this unprecedented suffering and bodily humiliation. Over time, the regimes changed, and become somewhat more tolerable while just as effective.  But once federal regulation of the treatment cycles toughened, Gladwell argues (actually with somewhat a “libertarian” ideology) doctors had a harder time expanding their cures of various cancers, especially lymphomas and leukemias. Rules seemed too concerned with regulating the discomfort and side-effects on the patient. Gladwell is arguing a position you would expect from the Cato Institute (and probably from David Brooks, too).

I think one could argue with Gladwell.  Newer treatments that really work do have fewer side effects.  For HIV, for example, patients can stay in remission for years with decreasing side effects for newer drugs, which can melt away Kaposi’s Sarcoma if it recurs after a period of no use.   New immunotherapries seem to work for melanoma.  And patients like ABC’s Robin Roberts can undergo complete bone marrow transplants to cure pre-leukemia conditions.  And Maryland governor Larry Hogan, who could have been a desirable GOP presidential candidate had he wanted to run, is placed in remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and he indicates that the treatment was not as horrible as feared.  Yes, Jack Andraka could be his oncologist a decade from now if Hogan needs one.

Gladwell discusses prostate cancer, which comes in many forms.  My father died (at 82) of an aggressive variation of it, rather suddenly.  He did what he wanted until the last few weeks and never knew disability.  He may have suspected he had it during his last two years or so,  but did not want to put himself and my mother through the idea of what he suspected the treatment could include – castration and treatment with female hormones.  (One can imagine parallel challenges in a marital relationship from breast cancer.) It’s arguable that with prostate cancer, and some other tumors, older patients will live with more quality if you leave them alone as long as possible.  That may be true of some lymphomas and multiple myeloma.  But when my mother was 96, a surgeon still wanted to do a breast dissection for a nodule, which sounded ridiculous under the circumstances.

In fact, Jack Andraka’s test (which has a reasonable chance of approval in some form in a few years, even according to my own physician) is predicated partly on the notion that pancreatic cancer is much more likely to be curable if “caught early”. Right now, it is one of the deadliest when diagnosed, usually in middle age.

Today, medicine can treat diseases that used to be quickly, or at least inevitably, fatal.  But it comes with a new challenge, that people who receive care have the family and social support systems behind them to keep them going.  In an individualistic world of smaller families, this won’t be easy.  When I was growing up, despite the pretense of “family values”, there was little thought given to expending the effort to help the elderly live well and longer, or to making the disabled feel more valued as people.  Today, we can do these things, but “healthy” people, in and outside the affected families, have to become personally supportive.

I tend to remain personally aloof emotionally about these things.  I don’t like to “join in” with naïve calls for cures.  But it is possible that many cancers will one day be curable with similar treatments, because most cancer cells have similar underlying vulnerabilities (cells that don’t die).

One other thing.  For the life of me, I don’t know why it is such a big deal for the government to accept the use of whatever components of marijuana will effectively control the nausea of chemotherapy. Actually, I think this changed this year (link ).  In the 1980s, I had a friend in Dallas who reported surgery and chemo for testicular cancer in his twenties, and who said that street marijuana from a dealer took care of the nausea and vomiting from bleomycin and cis-platinum (and use of a homeopathic salve saved his hair).  Later, in 1978, I would have reason to suspect a friend might have been treated for something like Hogkins, something that led me to an epiphany where I realized there were disturbing signs something was already wrong in the gay community in NYC.

(Published: Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at 11:30 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.

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Update: Oct. 19, 2016

Here’s an essay by Shawn Schossow, motivated by the debate over voting for third party candidates (Jill Stein), which defends the idea of “intersectionality“.

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

An amateur journalist (me!) covers disasters (the W Va floods), and incurs self-righteous resentment

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Tuesday (July 12) I attempted to survey the West Virginia flooding as part of a brief 3-day trip.

Northbound on I-77 from I-1 in Virginia, I had passed through the Big Walker Tunnel and then the East River Mountain Tunnel. A rig almost clipped me while illegally changing lanes and cutting in inside the tunnel, which would have led to a Stephen King-like catastrophe.  After I was in West Virginia,  I stopped at the first “visitor center” which was a little hard to get to, requiring getting on to public streets, off I-77, now called “The West Virginia Turnpike.” I went in to look for a state map and asked about road closures through the affected areas.

The information desk did not have any of this, and the woman (at the customer service desk) acted offended that anyone would travel through the area out of “curiosity” if he weren’t a “volunteer”.  I went back to the car, and finally found a road closure list on the website of a Hungtington W.Va. television station. I went back inside and showed it to her.  She became even more upset, even unhinged.  She insisted that “they” didn’t want people traveling in the region at all unless they were there to help.

I drove on to a service plaza, and got somewhat the same information, although the person was much more courteous.   I would then have a bizarre “character test” in the parking lot (narrative here ).

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I had heard in Washington DC news media (like station WJLA) that the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs had re-opened (it had housed people displaced by the floods).  So I decided to go only through the southern section along I-64 (and not try to go through Richwood, a town I have visited numerous times before) on SR 39, even though WSAZ said it was open.

I got off at Lewisburg, where there was a “Traffic Jam” unrelated to the flooding     But I drove down to Ronceverte, W. Va., down in the valley along the Greenbrier River.  Most of the buildings downtown showed evidence of high water up to about two feet, but businesses were open.  I had lunch in a cash-only family restaurant fried chicken buffet, and picked up a West Virginia news paper that talked about a library in Rainelle W. Va. that had a Gofundme to replace its books.   Remember, at the Public Library, “It’s free, it’s free.”   Homes near the water appeared damaged but it seemed most people were still able to live in them, and a church was undamaged.  Only one street was closed to non-residents because of a bridge safety problem.

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I then drove to White Sulphur Springs, where the relief activity was much bigger.  Along the main street into town there was a lot of refuse piled up, near the Greenbrier Golf Course, which itself appeared to be pretty much restored. There were numerous signs “Sulphur Springs Strong” and “West Virginia Lives” or words to that effect.  There was a relief station at the St. Charles Catholic Church and one other one downtown.  Businesses appeared to be open and welcoming.  Toward the river, just north of downtown, businesses and homes appeared damaged, but again it appeared people lived in them.  Most of the people needing relief would appear to have come from more rural areas down the river.

The West Virginia Daily News covers the disaster with many stories, such as this one about the volunteers, or this one about therapy dogs.  The newspaper has articles on how FEMA works, and addresses the question of whether homeowners had procured flood insurance.  After disasters in lower income areas, we always hear horror stories about people without reasonable property insurance.

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I have visited the Greenbrier area numerous times before.  I placed one copy of my first DADT book there in a store in 1997, and I took the tour of the Greenbrier nuclear bunker at that time (another story).

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I had visited WSS overnight in December 1996 right before an important meeting about my “conflict of interest” problem that I have discussed elsewhere (May 30).

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There is also a “tunnel to nowhere” just south of WSS.

I have visited disaster areas before, without issues, such as after the February 2016 tornado near Tapapahonick. VA.

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I saw the aftermath of the 2014 tornado in Tupelo MS, where many homeowners were still rebuilding and considerable debris was still left (hotels were open but some wireless services didn’t work)

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And I noticed the effects of the  2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL, where some areas south of campus haven’t been rebuilt.

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In March 2013, several months after Hurricane Sandy, most areas of the Jersey Coast and southern Long Island were open, but one community Rockaway Queens as closed, and various streets or neighborhoods in coastal towns (like Seaside Heights) were still clearly marked as closed except to local traffic.

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Generally, after most disasters (like large tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes), authorities (usually the governor) clearly announce which areas are closed to the public (sometimes open only to residents with identification).  This does not seem to have happened this time in West Virginia, maybe partly because of the widespread area of damage.

Should “amateur blogger journalists” cover disasters?  Should someone “like me” play real-life “Star Reporter” (that very geographical 1950s board game, now forgotten)?  This really is not about earning ad money off of other people’s tragedies (which is what that first clerk could have been thinking).  Note that this blog doesn’t even carry ads yet.  “Amateurs” after all, probably haven’t paid their dues covering conflict journalism and taking the risks (look at what happened to Bob Woodward).  Anderson Cooper and Sebastian Junger both started out by “paying their dues”.  I came to all this on my own as a “second career”.

Should amateur bloggers claim that expected journalistic objectivity is a good thing?  Or should they be ready to “join in” “other people’s” causes, with some self-directed passion?

(Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 3:15 PM)

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Update: Sunday, July 17

Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA said this morning that a youth volunteer group will go to the Richwood area and live and work under somewhat primitive conditions. Whatever the media reports, word of mouth suggests that conditions along SR 39 may be more difficult than what I saw along I-64, twenty or so miles to the south.

Update:  Thursday, Sept. 8

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I drove through the WVa 55 and 39 area, through Richwood and other communities on Aug. 26.  Most of Richwood was high enough not to have damage, but a few houses were destroyed by rockslides, too.  Along streams, homeowners seemed to be doing repair work themselves.  People who live in this part of the country are self-reliant and know how to do construction on their own, even without hiring many contractors. Outside volunteer help in the area did not seem to have been that significant.

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