CNN columnist compares user-generated content to conventional media and warns amateurs on freedom of the press

Brian Stelter offers a very constructive op-ed on CNN today , “Whose Freedom Is It?” in a series, “Free Press: What’s at Stake”.

Stelter takes the practical position (as have I) that many social media users and bloggers have become quasi-establishment journalists, supplementing the major media, and helping with “keeping them honest”, as Anderson Cooper often says.  So amateurs need to take fact-checking seriously.

This freedom may well be undermined by a number of concerns explored here recently. These include erosion of downstream liability protections for service providers (the Backpage-Section 230 problem), increasing legal exposure to “amateur” journalists for certain kinds of hyperlinks and embeds, the fake news scandals of the past year (really, the observation that “average joe” social media users tend to follow tribal crowds rather than read critically), and particularly the ease with which teens and young adults seem to be recruited into violence, which includes but is by no means limited to radical Islam and gang activity.  As I’ve noted here before, these kinds of concerns can make amateur journalism seem “gratuitous” (e.g unnecessary and capable of being shut down) although Trump seems much more concerned about the establishment (Fourth Estate) press than the newbies (Fifth Estate).

But you have to take seriously he demands made on social media platform and search engines to “pre-censor” user ouput.

Consider this article by Karl McDonald, “The Daily Mail Fundamentally Understands What Google Is”    Search engines are particularly having to deal with “the right to be forgotten” outside the US (as well as “digital laundry”).

Speakers on the Internet benefit in different ways from search engines, social media sites (some like Facebook create more opportunity for permanent “publication” than do others, like Snapchat), and shared or dedicated third-party hosting for conventional or blog sites; these providers also usually provide domain name registration. Users  also benefit from security services like Cloudflare and SiteLock.   Generally, social media sites are taking more “responsibility” for certain kinds of damaging speech (hate speech, bullying, or terror recruiting) than are neutral site hosts.   However, after the Daily Stormer matter (post Charlottesville), a few hosts participated in kicking off at least one neo-Nazi site from domain registration.

The “Mediator” Jim Rutenberg wrote a piece “Terrorism Is Faster than Twitter” Nov. 5 in which he traces how NYC bicycle lane terrorist Sayfullo Saipov followed terror recipes exactly, and tries to explain where he found them.  There are supporting details in a Nov. 2 story by Rukmin Callimachi   There is reference to the magazine Rumiyah (related to Dabiq).  A web operation called “Site Intel Group” tries to trace how this material is distributed on the web.  Much of it moves to the Dark Web or P2P.  Generally, it appears that material from these groups disappears quickly from better known social media and from conventionally hosted sites and moves around on offshore providers a lot.  There are articles on the Internet Archive (“WayBack”) which require specific logon (rather uncommon for less controversial material). In general, it does not appear that the sort of material that the Boston Marathon or other domestic “lone wolf” or small cell terrorists tried to use came from the more conventionally accessed and indexed parts of the Web.  Most of it seems pretty underground (after initial recruitment) with various encrypted apps.  We’re left to ponder what is making some of these young men (and sometimes women) tick, and have to face that modern civilization, with its individualized hypercompetitiveness, seems to offer them only failure and shame.

(Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 6:45 PM EST)

 

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)

 

 

 

Right-sizing: free speech, individualism, pitted against mass movements; and “what if? ….”

In early April 2005, I drove down (dodging a tornado on I-95) to Richmond (from Arlington) for an Equality Virginia dinner,  My mother, who was still quite intact at 91, warned, “don’t let yourself show up on television.”

I had returned from Minnesota in late 2003, and was “living at home” again. She had read my first book and somewhat vaguely understood my long term involvement with the issue of gays in the military, and the gradual effort to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell”.  That phrase seems to map what this post is about as a meta-moniker.  Mother had sometimes said I should never mention “William and Mary” (my 1961 expulsion for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean, as I cover in my books and other posts), as if it would only become a source of tension and discomfort for others (not so much the political controversy itself).  I can understand her practical concerns, as I was working as a substitute teacher already, and I’ve already covered how that could blow up. (see July 19 piece).

At one point in conversation surrounding this Richmond trip, she asked, why people should get bad news about national issues from me?  I’ve gotten that sentiment before on social media, from people who says they want Facebook now to be a “politics free zone” and they don’t need to learn of the latest danger they face from international enemies from someone like me.

Ironically, my mother did not fully understand what I was doing in her own basement on my Dell computer on that little aluminum table.  That is, making lots of posts to my legacy “doaskdotell” site (essentially blogging) and being found passively by search engines, needing no employees and needing no capital to keep publishing.  Google took care of everything. “It’s free.”

What have I “accomplished”?  I started this process, in modern times, on the way I argued the issue of gays in the military.  But other issues concerning hyperindividualism (the necessity and dangers of ego) circulated around this one kernel until I was opining on almost everything.  It was a superstorm Sandy of argumentation, an accretion disk.  I attracted visitors for what I was saying, with very simple technology, only getting around to make it look better (on blogging platforms) around 2006. My arguments became known and I think influenced debate (especially on DADT, even helping lead to the 2010 repeal act) even if my name did not (which might have been a good thing).  I tended to focus on moral arguments centered on personal karma, and obstructed more traditional thinking based on victimization and identity politics.

But, one asks, who was I, of all people, to be in a position to influence others, when I did not have my own “skin in the game”?  I did not have children.  I had arguably some subtle disability as a boy but I, compared to other people, had been sheltered somewhat by the relative prosperity and stability of my generation (even as it was threatened by issues by the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and Vietnam war).  I come back at you, and say, you need to know the history.  You need to know the dangers ahead by looking at what happened in the past, from a very personal, street level which my narrative provide.  An unusually important part of this history has to do with conscription and sharing of mandatory risk taking, and the social and personal resilience needed with it.

So, in the books and blog postings, I did accumulate a treasure trove of history that is often overlooked, that today’s and future generations really need to get.

This could be called “amateur speech” or “gratuitous speech”.  But continuing it became my “second career”, as it had started in the mid 1990s with my developing my first book, and then took over after my (post 9/11) “layoff” at the end of 2001.

It became difficult to pursue anything else while I was “living at home” again.  My “best” job was substitute teacher, but there were potential conflicts (link ).  The jobs available could be menial and regimented, and perhaps dangerous (convenience store clerks are exposed to crime), invoking questions about cowardice (as the idea used to be understood), or they could involve hucksterism.  Most of the better paying jobs involved “marketeering”, aggressively trolling other people to go get them to buy things (whether life insurance, or tax preparation).  Suddenly, having become the “alien observer” and cataloger – something more honorable than just “spectator” or “watcher” – traditional selling was no longer acceptable.  (This fits into the material in the book “Men Without Work” by Nicholas Eberstadt, which I will review soon.)

Now, we have a president elect Trump, taking office January 20, who seems hostile to dependence on individualized communications technology, to exactly the kind of thing I did.  I’ve covered this before in various posts, but I would add that Trump could reasonably ask, does this kind of activity support families or put people to work?  Does it carry it’s own weight?   Could it be underwritten for liability insurance? (I have to add another complaint I get from unwanted solicitations:  something like, “How dare you give your stuff away for free and not try to sell your books aggressively, and help people in bookstores keep their jobs?”)  Because use of such an open communications infrastructure does open the world up to dangers from abusers, ranging from cyberbullies to sex traffickers to terror (ISIS) recruiting. And American civilians, he could argue, have become targets of foreign enemies as a result.  (Pulse-Orlando is the most egregious example.)  So this kind of activity could be dialed down or shut down, based on some idea that we are “at war” when domestic civilians can become targets. It’s unclear how First Amendment arguments would apply once it got into court.

So I do think the future poses real “threats” to the curtailment of Internet expression as we have become used to it.  The ways this could happen are numerous, each one of them like a screenplay script.  A lot of it has to do with Section 230, which works in different ways for different providers (telecom companies, publication service providers, social networks, forums, and shared web hosting companies, and even shared economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, and even advertising bulletin boards like Craigslist and Backpage).  But a lot of it has to do, more indirectly (even with issues like ending net neutrality), with the business models of major publicly held telecom and Internet companies today.  Many of these models are based on end-users clicking on and buying products online from ads.  Because of security concerns, many users are much less willing to do this than a decade ago, myself included.  I do notice ads sometimes on sites but rarely click on them;  if I’m interested, I go to the original site of the company.  I tend to buy a lot from Amazon and use physical stores much less than I did.  So my own behavior is an example of the “business model” problem.  I don’t play ball, with or through “groups” that I naturally should belong to.

So, it’s fair to ask, “What if?….”  I know that was a phrase du jour during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.  But what if the right to post online or self-publish “without gatekeepers” was indeed taken away? (even out of emergency concerns over national security, as after a major terror incident).

What else have I got?  I’ve got an engaging novel project, screenplay based on the three DADT books  and music composition . But in this older world of needing third parties, I would need to raise real money.  Maybe Kickstarter or Indiegogo could go somewhere, but I don’t have the material that’s obviously “popular”, even with minorities, at the get-go.  As it stands now, I need the visibility of unsupervised self-publishing to make my work known.  I still think that’s reasonably effective.  One little bit of feedback I’ve discovered in the music area: established composers (of which I am not) have to make a living off of commissions.  Conceivably my activity could disrupt that expectation, although that seems a little far-fetched.

So then there would be the constructive idea of working for or with a legitimate news outlet.  One immediate problem is that Trump seems to dislike conventional media companies (except Fox and Breitbart and probably OAN) even more than amateurs who criticize.  In fact, it’s even imaginable that he would “protect” amateurs (like me or even “Milo”) out of his dislike of traditional media.  So it’s very hard to predict what the environment could be like for smaller media companies after a shakeout.  But I can definitely imagine working with a company like Vox or OAN (ranging from progressive and somewhat liberal to somewhat conservative).  As I look at Breitbart right now, I don’t find it objectionable. Most of the stuff I see there looks like it needs to be reported and said, and it looks credible (now – I can’t speak for the past).

Recently, Bill Moyers, of PBS, listed “10 Investigative Reporting Outlets to Follow”, including BuzzFeed.  Yes, I would be glad to look at any of these.  Let me add that I worked for NBC (on the general ledger system as a computer programmer at 30 Rock from 1974-1977) and I would work there again.  I know some folks at NBCWashington and at WJLA-7 (ABC).

So then, we ask, what about my old career as an individual contributor in information technology. That somewhat died with disuse after 2001.  The IT career resume is here.  One observation that seems relevant is that the exit from the job markets of older IT professionals from established pre-Internet mainframe “culture” (systems development life cycle) denied contracting companies hiring to design and implement “Obamacare” the talent it needed.  That’s one reasons for there being so many problems.  Maybe the GOP plans could actually cover everyone and be simpler to run.  But it is entirely conceivable that I could come back to work and help “you” build a system that actually works.

But now I’ve got to get back to my concern over personal “right-sizing”. I want to share how I personally process the reactions I get from people.  A couple of earlier posts (especially Jan. 4 and Nov. 1)  explain how people reacted to the perceived endpoint of my homosexuality.  I think I can work through what others think of my “self-broadcast” model in a similar well.

One point at the outset is that a lot of time, personal life plans are flawed but seem right (even for decades at a stretch) until some external pressure makes one reassess.  Sometimes actual coercion and force, as objectionable as it seems to libertarians, is a good thing.  Sometimes authoritarians do us a favor by making us face things.  But we may not be able to make others face things in turn. But “revolutionary thought” or “purification” does have its points.  It’s also true that we can think that we our captains of our own ships for a long time, following the narrower individualistic ideas of “personal responsibility” —  and find out how horrible it feels when we have made combative enemies determined to shut us down.

The most noticeable reaction from others during the 2003-2010 period, and even since, has been that others try to get me to sell things.  I want to see myself as “above” having to do that, troll people to contact them.  But others can say, that is exactly the problem.  Salesmanship, for its own sake, has gotten a bad rap because too many people like me have been artificially sheltered from having to do it.  My own father was a salesman, but worked “only” as a wholesaler (manufacturer’s representative) with bricks-and-mortar retail outlets, in a world that Trump misses.  All of his income (which was substantial) came from commissions.  Many of my parents’ social friends worked in this circle, for example, as life insurance agents.  My father believed in salesmanship for its own sake and exuded some authoritarian values.  Because I said it, I can make it true.

Think, then, about the aggressive attitude from my own cooperative book publishers since early 2012.  I get pestered about why I don’t sell hardcopy books and try to go on tours and do hotel seminars.  My reaction is, I’m a journalist, I’m not trying to fix your “f—ing”  life or make you all right.  (Well, Milo Yiannopoulos says that.)

Then I get critiques that I don’t really support anybody or my “brothers and sisters”.  I don’t attack people (or any group), but I do attack identity politics and pimping victimization. (I’m more civil than Milo.)

One way to make media sell is to promote causes that are popular, or to personally support people that seem to have “need”.  It’s unclear in some cases (in the minds of others) whether people are to be supported because they belong to a group (“people of color”, “people with disabilities”, etc) or because of their own narrative circumstances.

This is a sensitive issue with me.  I am not comfortable with promoting someone (with whom I otherwise had not personal connection) with an impairment of any kind just to show that I can do it.  I could even call it “disability porn”.  But it has become not only socially acceptable, it is becoming expected in some areas of social media, and it is viewed as a way to “sell”.  This is indeed a culture shift from how things were when I was growing up.

Yet, my saying this betrays a certain underlying character issue.  I view people from the lens of “you are what you are.”  “Que sera, sera”.  My father once said, in December 1961 after “therapy” had started after the William and Mary fiasco (pre-NIH) that the psychiatrist had said “You don’t see people as people” but as symbols or “foils” (especially the character Tovina in one of my scripts, according one friend.)  It’s as if people got “grades” in life (or “life points”, or transcendence of an otherwise “assigned station in life”) that uniquely raked them in specific position with respect to everyone else – harking to a day when school grades were legal tender.  In a sense, this is just a mathematical idea (called “well-ordered sets” ) and sounds like the individualistic idea of meritocracy, a notion coming under criticism from leftish professors in recent years (as with several book reviews, here ).

I think I would have to face a curious loop of logic, that all this means that “meritocracy” relates to my own desire to experience pleasure and desire in an intimate relationship with someone.  It (equating merit to “virtue”) adds “meaning”.  This certainly common with the “upward affiliation”   in the gay male world, but it really happens a lot in the mainstream straight world, too.

Likewise, my gut reaction to the notion of becoming “victimized” by either enemy (terrorist) or criminal aggression or by some very hostile policy change from the new administration (especially inasmuch as the election results are viewed as the results of the wrongdoing or “sins” of others), is one of revulsion and disgust.   I cringe when I see leftist websites beg for money, and claim that I need them to speak for me, as if I were too much of a “loser” to be able to speak for myself.  I hate the idea of supporting someone else who I otherwise would disapprove of, in order to get “protection” myself.  But I have no right to claim that I am above that.  Having spoken out with self-broadcast, I find people come knocking, and when I don’t respond, they see what I call neutrality as actual broad personal contempt or even hatred.

There is, as I said in my DADT-III book, Chapter 6, a moral question about “stepping up” to meet the needs of others when one is able to do so out of more inherited privilege, and a failure to do so when challenged adds to instability.  Lately I have been blogging a lot about issues centered on not just refugees, but particularly asylum seekers, particularly in some cases LGBTQ.  Because I inherited a house with some room and some capital with it, it seems to me I would have a duty to act on the need for housing if possible.  I’m also finding, so far, that assessing the risk involved is difficult because of lack of transparency on the issue, in the legal and social services system.  The U.S. does not have a system (compared to Canada, for example) that would encourage individuals to step up to this challenge without possibly existential personal risk, and yet such risks have existed in many other areas (like the draft in the past).

One has to consider how life goes on if he plays “Good Samaritan”, so to speak, and something goes bad.  He – or I – winds up paying for the sins of others, but that could be coming to me because of my own karma.  Whatever happens, at an individual level, “it Is what it is”, the supreme tautology (Nov. 6 posting).  I am told that a “person of faith” can always deal with this (the idea of taking someone else’s bullet, as if in the Secret Service). But one can emulate the “Rich Young Ruler” by simply having too much to lose. What others see as excess becomes part of the self.  At the same time, the self does not see intrinsic emotional value if lifting others up, possibly because of spoilage and lack of down-to-earth common sense and skills (or “street smarts”), or perhaps of schizoid emotional aloofness, all tied in to the “upward affiliation” already mentioned.  If I were confronted with the possibility of a personal relationship with someone “in need” by external circumstances (that is, not through creating a child in the conventional family), would it “mean” enough to me? “All lives matter”, indeed.

There is a lot of sentiment out there that preoccupation with “being good” (as a David Brooks or a a Malcolm Gladwell would see it) is simply a way to maintain a belief that you are “better” than the people you “help”.  That’s particularly expressed in a recent book “No More Heroes” by Jordan Flaherty (see meritocracy link above). The desired moral paradigm is to belong, particularly to a cause beyond oneself (as in Martin Clay Fowler’s book “A Philosophy of Belonging”) and accept that the group is part of you.  That extends to belonging to mass movements, as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”.  Other animals experience distributed consciousness (such as dolphins and especially orcas ). Maybe the killer whale really gets right-sizing.

(Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 4 PM EST)

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

wl23

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

stadiums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump’s idea of “sacrifice” denies a basic requirement of civilized living

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I could introduce today’s missive with Ted Gup’s column, “Why Trump is not like other draft dodgers”  or, in print in the New York Times today, “From one draft dodger to another”, on .p 21.  We don’t need to rehearse Trump’s varied deferments here.  Bill Clinton also got them.

Or we could read the op-ed by Ghazala Khan, whose son Humayun Khan, made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, serving in the all-volunteer (since 1973) Army as a captain, in the Washington Post, “Trump criticized my silence. He knows nothing about true sacrifice”.   Father  Khizr Khan has actually temporarily taken down the website for his law practice out of fear, according to the Wall Street Journal, story.

But it was the interview on ABC with George Stephanopoulos where Trump unveiled his lack of “social graces” (to borrow an Army Basic term) to say the least.

Trump says that helping people maintain their (online) reputations, or giving people jobs, or setting up veterans’ memorials, is a “sacrifice”.

Then, he needs to listen to Ezra Klein’s video on Vox, “Donald Trump’s slander of Captain Humayun’s Family is horrifying, even for Trump”. Klein goes on to wonder what Trump would be like even as a neighbor, let alone president. This is about character, folks.

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I could proceed this subject step-by-step.  I’ve outlined my history with respect to the Vietnam era draft ad nauseum in my books.  To summarize, I took the draft physical three times after my William and Mary expulsion for “homosexuality” in 1961.  I went from 4F to 1Y to 1A. Basic Combat Training was difficult, with a stint in Fort Jackson’s “Tent City” for “Special Training Company”.    After having the advantage of a graduate degree (how often did I announce my “Master’s degree in Mathematics” to drill sergeants at Fort Jackson?),  I was pretty well protected from the risk of combat and state sheltered stateside by my “01E20” MOS, which I believe was eventually eliminated.  One other person at Fort Eustis in similar circumstances actually volunteered to go to Vietnam right after I got out.  But during Basic especially, my relatively privileged situation did cause resentment among some other recruits, especially African-Americans. I could “serve without serving.”

What’s “worse” is that I worked as an assistant instructor while a graduate student, teaching quasi-remedial college algebra to some freshmen who were not the cream of the intellectual (or privileged_ crop.  Many got “F’s” and I probably contributed to their winding up in draft-driven combat.

Generations today have little concept of the moral quandary posed by the student deferment system of the 60s (replaced by the lottery in 1969, as explained in the NYTimes piece above).  Earlier, Kennedy had wanted to defer married men and then just married fathers, but that was all put to bed.  A lot of soldiers in Basic had allotments sent home to spouses with kids.  And relatively few pay attention to the fact that we still have a Selective Service System, with mandatory registration for men (according to birth gender). Recently, the debate over drafting women (as practiced in Israel) led to appropriate counter-debate on whether Selective Service should be abolished altogether.  But we had a similar debate shortly after 9/11, spurred by (now late) Charles Moskos, who proposed reinstituting the draft while at the same time completely cancelling “don’t ask don’t tell” and (despite the privacy and cohesion arguments of 8 years before) allowing open gays into the military.  Even Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin said we might consider that. (The 1993 DADT law actually mentioned the possibility of “ultimate sacrifice” inherent in military service.)

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But my own personal narrative about the draft skims on top of a deeper schism of what it means to be a member of a family, community, nation.  I can recall, during the 60s, other students saying, if they were drafted and maimed in war, they didn’t want to come back.  I would say that, as I didn’t see being a casualty (let alone “victim”) of violence (state driven or not) particularly honorable.  I was appalled at the idea that an adult, maimed or disfigured in war, would need to make demands of a loved one in an intimate relationship for the rest of their lives.  But the willingness of people to deal with this (including intimate partners and spouses) has a lot to do with the resilience of a free society.  That’s why a focus on lookism and “desirability” can set a culture up for totalitarianism later (or for demagogues like Donald Trump).

A lot of socialization during growing up has to do with meeting real needs, and with living with others under circumstances less than ideal when some external circumstance, unpreventable according to the general resources of the people, forces it.  We don’t like this.  And the “inequality” debate has a lot to do with the extremely varied amounts of hardship and deprivation that people encounter when growing up.  Changing demographics will confront people, even those who don’t choose parenthood, with situations where they have to provide for others – as with eldercare – and make “sacrifices” in doing so.  That feeds back and completes my own narrative, which has many other disturbing moments where I was tested as to my own flexibility to “step up” and did not always do so.

It is true, that “culture wars” coupled with asymmetry (much of that involving the Internet) can put ordinary citizens in harm’s way of politically motivated violence, as if civilians should accept the idea that they can become involuntary combatants (which feeds the thinking of terrorists).   While extremely offensive to many, there is some truth to this today, and that idea does help feed right-wing ideas (as in the gun debate) that people need both the right and responsibility to defend themselves along with their immediate families and communities.  In modern times, most civilians in the US have gotten accustomed to the idea that their main risk of combat comes (only) from possible conscription of young men – but around the world that has generally not been the case.  This is not ideology, it is simply historical fact, and we have to deal with it. (There has occurred some recent flak on Facebook over comments about an “American Conservative” posting about US atrocities against civilians in Vietnam.)

But “sacrifice” means, your life changes course, not completely out of your own choices or agendas, and you step up and do things for others that really cost you something.  In some situations, doing the “right thing” is not always the same as the “wise thing” when it comes to narrower ideas of personal safety and interest. “Sacrifice” sometimes refers to an involuntary duty one must carry out for others.  “You’ve got to” is sometimes the case. “Not to do so” sometimes amounts to the long forgotten meaning of cowardice.

(Published: Wednesday, August 3, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT)