McCain’s recent comments makes one wonder if he favors resuming the military draft (for women, too?); even more so with Kelly

John McCain, starting a statement that at first would have accused Donald Trump (like Bill Clinton) of draft dodging, seemed to demur as he then criticized a system in the 1960s that allowed rich kids to get doctors to write them medical disqualifications, while poor people went. Dan Merica has a typical story on CNN.  At first glance, it may sound to male millennials or even younger men that different moral standards are applied to men of earlier generations than to them or to women.

Actually, there was a sequence of privileges that I outlined in the footnotes to my DADT-1 book, after 48b, where it says “Chapter 2 additional conclusion” and I supply a table.

For a while, during the Kennedy years, married men with children were protected, and then married men without children were protected until a single-male pool was exhausted.  The marriage and paternity deferments were ended under LBJ in 1965, but the student deferments, which figured so much into the course of my own life, continued until the lottery started in 1969.  In my case, deferemnt meant that I was much less likely to see combat or even go to Vietnam when I went in, in 1968.

It is well to look at statistics of Vietnam War deaths by race, and also by conscription status (War library; world history)

McCain blithely speaks of an obligation to be available to serve your country.  Of course, it sounds a lot more credible from him than Trump. But it’s always seemed like a contradiction to the idea of the “right to life”. For a while, men who did not consummate procreative sexual intercourse with women were more likely to be drafted.

The Supreme Court, in Rostker v. Golberg, had upheld the male-only Selective Service registration iin 1981, but recently there have been bills in Congress to require women to register, as in Israel.

The capacity to share risk and sacrifice was a major part of the moral climate when I was growing up. Cowardice was a real crime. If you evaded your share of the risk, someone else had to pick it up in your place. That certainly complicates the moral compass compared to the more linear idea of personal responsibility and harmlessness in libertarian thought in more recent times. It also complicates the meaning of marriage.

The deepest “meaning” might have had to do with community resilience.  Most men experienced the sense of shared duty to protect women and children, with some degree of fungibility or interchangeability. Some duties in life were very gender-based.  Milo Yiannopoulos said as much, that manhood included willingness to lay down one’s life for others, although I can’t find the best link right now, here’s a related one.  But spouses of men who came back from war maimed and disfigured were to be expected to remain interested in their partners for life – an expectation that my projection of fantasy life in my days at NIH attacked.

There are other ways men take risks – dangerous jobs of the Sebastian Junger viariety help men “pay their dues”.  Yes, women can do them sometimes, maybe most of the time.  But I didn’t see any women as hotshots in “Only the Brave”, about wildfire firefighters. All of this invokes the low-level hum of debate over national service.

McCain’s echo of the obligation to offer oneself to military service needs to be considered in light of his reluctance to support the end of “don’t ask don’t tell” at the end of 2010.  Yet today he seems to support the service of some transgender members, and he opposed Trump’s brusque attempt to re-impose a transgender ban on Twitter.  But I advanced arguments in my first DADT book that the possibility of future conscription (or even the “Stop-Loss” backdoor draft of the Iraq war) added to the moral urgency of ending the gay ban and DADT. Few writers tried to make this argument.  My staying in this way may (online with search engines, letting my content go to “It’s Free”) have helped with the repeal.

There is a way that people today take risks that weren’t expected in the past – that is, in going all out in very personal ways, like organ and bone marrow donations, to save lives.  That’s partly because medicine makes such outreach – using your own body components — possible as a new kind of sacrifice.  This gets personal and intimate in ways that were unknown when I was growing up.

The New York Times has a couple of impressive pieces on this topic. Michael Stewart Foley describes “The Moral Case for Draft Resistance” in the 1960s here.  Even more challenging may have been John Kelly’s ancillary statement about the ignorance of Americans who haven’t served in a NYTimes “editorial notebook” piece by Clyde Haberman, which argues for the return of the draft, or maybe some kind of national service (civilian service could recur into old age).  Remember how Charles Moskos had helped author “don’t ask don’t tell” but decided the whole ban should be lifted after 9/11 when he started arguing for return of the draft.

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 at 4:45 PM EDT)

Trump’s transgender ban for the military by Twitter confounds Pentagon, compromises America’s credibility in the face of North Korean threats

Two mornings before North Korea fired an apparently successful parabolic missile test of its longest range device to date, President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender service members in the US military by a 3-part tweet, limited by the 140-character limit (until you embed).

Trump didn’t even “bother” to craft an Executive Order, maybe having been burned by the multiple travel bans.  Presumably he can do that, or he can give the Secretary of Defense Mattis direction to implement what he said in the tweet.

In fact, Mattis was apparently blindsided by the tweet, having expected to have until January 2018 to issue a report on the financial and practical issues about accepting transgender people into the military and possibly offering them sexual reassignment care during their military careers.  The Pentagon will take no action without formal action of some kind from the White House.

As a practical matter, it sounds, off hand, that the Pentagon could stop allowing people to enlist who say they are transgender, and could refuse to continue to pay for surgery.  But existing transgender personnel probably could stay in only if they did not start new treatment.  Even before Bill Clinton started the whole “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, there had been at least one case where a male-to-female enlisted person in Naval Intelligence had been honorably discharged, had surgery on her own, and (under Bush) been hired back into almost the same position as a civilian with the same security clearances.

There was no immediate talk that the measure indirectly threatened the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for (cis-gender) gay men and lesbians in the military.  In fact, the talk even from most Republican members of Congress now was that LGBT people (cis and trans), including John McCain (who had resisted the repeal at the end of 2010) should continue to serve without discrimination.

Previously Missouri congresswoman Vicki Hartzler had introduced a rider to ban transgender troops, claiming that they cost too much money (KCMO, Politco).  Rand (which had authored a huge volume on gays in the military in 1993 which I had used writing my first DADT book) had estimated the annual cost to be something between $2.4 million and $9 million, very small.  Various pundits referred to earlier writings, even by Mattis, critical of social experimentation in the military. That made me wonder in the back of my mind about the 2011 DADT repeal.

Arguments about military readiness and unit cohesion, and the compromised privacy of servicemembers who don’t have the same opportunity for double lives as civilians, have shifted over time.  Generally the military has been less concerned about it during times of real need, as the Army even quietly dropped asking about sexual orientation at draft exams as earlier as 1966.  “Asking” returned after the draft ended (although Selective Service continues, male-only and based on birth gender, although recent bills to require registration of women complicate the debate).  Then we all know “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Privacy and unit cohesion were touted as big issues in 1993 by Nunn and Moskos, but in actual practice (as the 1991 Persian Gulf War had already reinforced) these seemed to be non-issues for younger soldiers, and the same flexibility has included respect for transgender troops.  While in actual practice distraction of troops by diversity was minimal in an authoritarian command environment, socially conservative pundits have always made these “privacy” arguments, even for civilian fire departments back in the 1970s in response for proposals to end gay employment discrimination.

My own personal take is that one of the biggest reasons why discrimination by the military (outside of clear-cut fitness and medical issues and age) is a moral problem is that the rest of the world sometimes looks at all civilian citizens as potential combatants.  This goes back to my own experience with the military draft in the 1960s, when the ability to field a conventional ground force was possibly a strategic component of deterring nuclear war, part of the domino theory. Today the theory gets reinforced by the idea of asymmetric terrorism, as well as the fact that that Internet (and “online reputation” issues) have made double lives impossible.  But in historical perspective, it’s nothing new.  Consider the Battle of Britain, which followed Dunkirk (where civilians rescued soldiers) by a few weeks.

Transgender plastic surgeon Christine McGinn, who has experience as a Navy doctor, appeared on Smerconish today on CNN.

Did Trump simply play a cheap-shot to his base, which he has not been able to enlarge? In a less elite world, indeed there is a sense that gender conformity is needed to defend against external threats, as “common sense”, the way that phrase was used against me during my own Army Basic.  But in a modern world that can evolve into something new, it is not so simple.  Trump doesn’t want to move into the hypermodern world, and neither do a lot of other people, who would be left behind. Gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos had some harsh comments about trans in the military and women in combat, as quoted in another Washington Post article.

I’ll add as of this writing Trump expressed glee at the idea of “watching” Obamacare implode after the GOP failed to pass the Skinny Repeal.  “Watch.  Deal”.  And there are reports he wants to cut off some subsidies now.

There are also reports that new chief of staff Kelly will try to force Trump to stop using his personal Twitter account altogether.  That raises new questions of how he could wage war on the media.  So far (contradicting my early fears) he hasn’t disturbed the standalone bloggers.

(Posted: Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 6:30 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)

My “cold soul” never learned to deal with “relationism”

I may sound like an old-year’s old-man curmudgeon (with an “old soul” or maybe a chick-pea-sized “cold soul”)I’ in listing some pet peeves, but I do want to react to a few things that people come knocking about.

One peeve is to see fanatical pop-up ads ad emails begging for donations, from organizations who pretend that only they can speak for me.  As I’ve over-proved for the past two decades, I’m quite capable of broadcasting myself. But of course, I ran a bit of a family gauntlet for a while, and my Internet outspokenness may have foreclosed many other “second careers” that many people would need starting in their seventh decades. (One of these careers might have been teaching math, link. )  It’s ironic, especially given news right now, that this is part of the whole “conflict-of-interest” panoply.  And, I realize, that it is possible, either through my own misfortune or accident, or through a new political climate less favorable to “free speech”, or even to deteriorating Internet business modes, that I could lose my soapbox.  (Just today, Donald Trump said we depend too much on computers, attacking a mechanism that set up my life’s whole second act.)

Another, then, is constant hucksterism.  Part of that complaint is the shallow idea of “high pressure sales” that I ran into in a few of my post-IT-career job interviews.  I run into that also with wild or scatterbrained proposals to promote my book and become “popular”; “Play ball with us!”, “they” demand; “we need our jobs”.  But part of that comes from well-intentioned charities.  It seems like some of them are promoting “suffering porn” in soliciting donations for animals and children.  There are so many of these that it is impossible to take the time to respond to all of them separately.  Instead, I have to decide on what charities I want so support, and get them on an account with a bank to make the donations automatically.  I do add or change these as circumstances warrant.  I am more interested in a “charity” where I have some particular connection, however indirect, to the concern at hand. That’s called karma.

There’s also prodding from some groups to “support your group” or “team” which I don’t think I joined.

There are gratuitous “gofundme’s” that sound self-serving. Although, it’s true, the culture I grew up in, during the 1950s and 1960s, was not as hospitable to “asking for help” even if you were at a major disadvantage in life.  Somehow you had to “overcome” thinks by yourself.  Solidarity would come later.

There is, in modern liberal politics, a tendency to believe that belonging to a “suspect group” entitles one to extra help or consideration.  There is a tendency to place a “moral burden” on others (the backside of “moral hazard”) to pitch in and meet people’s needs based on their memberships in these groups.

I can put all this together with Trump’s recent claim that most people really want to live “locally” (rather than just project themselves “globally” from a soapbox the way I do) with another “peeve”: Yes, (or “yeth”), I get upset at existential challenges to my own personal “business model” and why I made the fundamental decisions with the second half (the “Sister Act”)  of my adult life that I did and won’t do “something else” when prodded by “need”. I do realize there is a chronic problem with my low level of “giving back” or “karma service” through volunteerism, but I also find that some volunteer groups act as if they were the moral arbiters of some kind of conscription (like national service).

One does not choose to be brought into the world.  One does not choose one’s race, nationality. or religious affiliation.  In a practical sense, one has little choice about propensities that relate to gender and sexuality.  Yet, the baseline expectation, in earlier times, was usually that “you fit in”, and you can carry your weight with your family group and local community, and then move out into the larger world. There was no free karma.  If your group got into trouble, you took your share of the risk and consequences.  Imagine the moral quandary, then, of someone, for example, growing up in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, and learning the libertarian ideas about property rights.  One moves out to other communities, perhaps, and then finds that new communities demand group loyalty, too.  If I had to deal with this, so must everyone else.  So the bias in my own thinking starts.

Times have indeed changed.  Narrow ideas of “personal responsibility”, often articulated by libertarians, get expanded to include participating the group (as Charles Murray wrote in “Coming Apart” in 2012), recognizing eusociality and personal relationism (as explained by Erica Stonestreet of the College of St. Benedict in a recent FEE essay ).  Here I find another imbalance that is troubling:  people (particularly online) demand personal attention from me that I don’t want to honor.  But I’ve been on the other side of that rank problem myself.

(Posted: Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 at 11:30 PM EST)

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


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.


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)