Why user-generated content (mine at least) seems to be near a precipice

Recently, Facebook announced it would make various changes to its newsfeed algorithms and policies to encourage people to interact personally more online and engage less in passive news posting and -gathering behavior. We can debate exactly what they want to accomplish and whether this policy change will reduce fake news (there are signs from overseas it might not, and other criticisms), but it is right to stop and wonder how we balance broadcasting our thoughts to others online (or in other vanity efforts like self-published books or vlogs) with real interactions.

Recently, a good friend on Facebook (whom I do see personally and whose professional career has him dealing with some of the national security questions I pose on this blog – and I don’t know any specifics) wrote an in-line post critical of the gratuitous nature of free content on the Internet.  We expect our writers to work for free, he essentially said.  We can’t expect that of plumbers or electricians or people with “real jobs”.  Oh, I can recall debates back in the 1980s as to whether (then mainframe) “data processing” gave us “real jobs”.

My friend’s post begs the question, what is a “writer” anyway?  Is he/she someone who writes what others want so that it will sell (like Joan Didion or Armistead Maupin, both the subjects of indie film biographies last year)?  Or can someone who wants to write a personal manifesto and achieve fame with it a real writer?  Manifestos, however “from on high” they seem, remember, have a bad rap;  a few authors of these screeds have then done some very bad things (like with guns).

So that comes to my own content, which appears to be “free” in the most anti-competitively abusive sense.  I think of Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film “It’s Free” set in a public library (to be followed by “Free Fish”).  Most of my online content appears in four WordPress blogs (set up in 2014 and then 2016) or one of sixteen “Blogger” blogs (starting in 2006).  But there is also a lot of older legacy content on “doaskdotell.com”, all flat html, and this includes all the text of my books.  And, yes, “it’s free”. Like attending my first gay talk group in February 1973.

It’s true that I have Google Adsense on Blogger, but right now my WordPress blogs and flat sites have no advertising, no pop-ups,, no donation jars, no “calls to action”, and no email lists  (The WordPress does invite the user to share on Facebook, Twitter. Or Google-Plus when brought up, with comments, as an individual post).  I don’t run “other people’s” donation (or political candicacy) campaigns on my sites, and I don’t pimp causes from a partisan stance. To a lot of people, it seems, that means I won’t “play ball” with them.

Yet, I’m a fan of Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplan’s “Blogtyrant” world, and most of his recommendations do apply to small, niche businesses that want to reach consumers, sometimes even some “real” authors (like what Author’s Guild means) and musicians (who sell on Bandcamp as well as Amazon).  Aggression with mailing lists and promotions pays if you have legitimate customers whose needs you can really meet. Otherwise it would fall into spam.

So that brings me to the question, how can I sustain this?  The transparent answer is that I have other money, so it hasn’t had to pay its own way. A lot of it was saved when I was working, because I was able to avoid debt.  (Not having kids means no big mortgage is necessary.)  Some of it is inherited (and that gets into the issue of my own and mom’s trusts, out of scope here).  And I got lucky in 2008.  I probably benefited from it. (Seeing it coming, and some conservative values, helps.)  So call me a rentier, an abusive capitalist, ripe for expropriation by Antifa if you like.

It’s useful for me to go back and recall how I got into self-publishing, long before the Internet became available to newbies.  I probably got my first little article published in 1974, where I argued for gay rights from a libertarian perspective, a “mind your own business” plea to the world.

In the 1980s, I did network with the medical and public health community, the Dallas Gay Alliance, and right wing elements, all by mailed letters, trying to get some sort of political compromise, during a time when Texas (in early 1983) considered passing a very draconian anti-gay law.  I was quite concerned about the shallowness of arguments sometimes put out by traditional “activists” seeming to expect to be viewed as victims merely by belonging to a “class”.  I was particularly attentive to the clinical information as it unfolded.  There was a period when the conventional way of resisting was “don’t take the test” once an HIV test was available.  I did volunteer as a “baby buddy” at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center during that time.

In the 1990s the issue of gays in the military came onto center stage.  The components of the debate at the time (such as “privacy” in the barracks, as well as “unit cohesion”, not quite the same thing) cut across many other issues in an unusual way. I began getting published in some LGBT and libertarian journals (list).  I wanted to get the arguments right at an individual level, without appeals to morally dubious claims of group oppression. Because of my own situation and personal history, I entered the debate, and in August 1994 I decided firmly, while on vacation in Colorado, to write my first DADT book, which I finally issued in July 1997.  Partly to avoid a public conflict of interest which I have explained elsewhere (as in the DADT III book), I took a convoluted corporate transfer to Minneapolis at about the same time. I actually did sell copies of the book reasonably well for the first 18 months or so, but by the middle of 1998 I had discovered I could draw a lot more attention to my work by simply placing the book text online and letting the search engines find it, which they did.  (I paid nothing to do this, other than the nominal fees for a domain – the guy operating the service was a personal friend through work – and I did not need to code metatags or secure SEO to get it found.  It seemed use of free content online for self-promotion was rather novel at the time;  during the dot-com boom, not that many people really did it this way.)   The search engines proved to be effective.  On a few occasions, when I made a controversial addition to material on the site, I got email feed back the next day.  My use of the “It’s free” technique seemed very effective but came under threat from the 1998 “Child Online Protection Act” for which I would become a sub-litigant under the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s sponsorship.

Over time, my commentary would cross over many other issues, particularly with regard to libertarianism for most social and economic issues, and expand out after 9/11 into how you protect personal liberty in a world with external threats, sometimes borne out of populist “politics of resentment” as well as religious fundamentalism (by no means limited to radical Islam) and possibly resurgence of communism (North Korea now). After 9/11, one or the proponents of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue”, Charles Moskos, argued publicly for resuming the military draft (to include women), and dropping the military ban altogether.  That fit into my arguments perfectly.  As personal and job circumstances changed over the years (DADT III again) I kept my material online, and my staying out there so long played a significant repeal in the eventual repeal of DADT in 2011 with Obama in office.

I have contemplated ideas like “opposing viewpoints” automation (book series), which sites like Kialo and Better Angels take on, and I well look into these. Hubpages could provide another opportunity.

Over the years, there have been various threats to the sustainability of the way I work.  These include the undoing of network neutrality and the weakening of Section 230 (the Backpage controversy) as well as various efforts by established media to tighten copyright and trademark laws, not only to combat real piracy (a legitimate concern) but to undermine competition from people (like me) who could compete with them with much lower costs by staying outside the union and guild world.  Another issue, less important in the US than in Europe, is the supposed “right to be forgotten”, which my own use of search engines confounds. As this gets back to libertarian issues (right to work) and to the SOPA debate in 2011.  A critical concept behind all of this is that social media companies and hosting companies not share undo downstream responsibility or liability exposurefor the actions of their users, otherwise they could not let us create user-created content without gatekeepers.

Another possibly grave threat could be personal targeting from (foreign) enemies, or causing others (family members) associated with a speaker like me to be targeted.  I actually was concerned about this while my mother was alive.  This has not happened to me as I don’t seem to be as visible a target as, say, Milo Yiannopoulos (or Pam Geller or Mary Norris), even though I share and communicate some similar beliefs.  But, if you think about this with a Tom Clancy-type novelist’s mind, you can imagine this as another way an enemy could subvert American democracy.  That’s the Sony hack issue at the end of 2014 from North Korea.  Instead, Russia, in particular, noticed that speakers like me tended to be noticed by the “choir” (other academics and policy makers) but not by the “average joe’s”, whose everyday needs we seemed oblivious to.  So the Russians pumped Facebook and Twitter with fake news which gullible people would believe and such a way that Asperger-like people like me (not quite the same as schizoid), trying to influence policy with passive search engine strategy, wouldn’t even notice or care.  For them it worked, and Trump won.

I think a fair criticism of me would be that I don’t actually have anything to sell to customers that meet their needs, so no “Blogtyrant” strategy of playing ball could work. Do I have content that people would “want” and would pay for?  Well, that’s the novel (and to some extent the fiction in DADT-III, which could make a nice two-part indie film), and the music.  In fact, I have worked on my own composed music (finishing what I had started in high school and the early college years, at about the time of the William and Mary expulsion) and, because it is post-romantic, it may actually be capable of “crowd pleasing” in a way that a lot of the manipulative music from established young composers today (under 40) does not.

I do need to “stay on point” with my own work, so it is very difficult for me to respond to pleas from other parties to join their efforts, in activism and resistance.  It is also difficult to give away time in “service” unless I find niche-like service opportunities that are closer to my own skill set.   A good example could be directing chess tournaments which invite underprivileged youth, or arranging concerts for other musicians.

I do get concerned over two big questions.  One is that the permissive environment that has allowed so much user-generated content to reach readers and consumers may not be sustainable for a combination of reasons:  rampant user abuse, security, and the ability of companies to make money legitimately without fake news, bots, intrusive ads, and all kinds of questionable technique.  I don’t know if, for example, Google and WordPress would find it profitable to keep their free platforms forever.  And I can imagine ways it could become much harder in the future to get reasonable hosting than it has been until today.  The recent incidents where alt-right sites (at least one) were banned by most hosts over their content is part of my concern.  You can have a specific objection to, say, neo-Nazism, but then it’s a slippery slope:  radical Islam, communism (Stalinism or gulag-ism, which is where Antifa could find itself headed), all kinds of other complaints based on “intersectionality” or “populism” threaten the whole expectation of legitimacy of free speech.  You could, for example, require that every website, by certain accounting rules, show that it pays its own freight (although that would seem to invite porn back, wouldn’t it).   It’s hard to “pay your own way” without admitting to group preferences and “partisanship”, and showing social “loyalty” and even “community engagement”.  All of this is in tension with my insistence on looking at human rights as an individual’s property, regardless of any membership in a group that claims some sort of systematic oppression (and eventual intersectionality).  But there is no constitutional principle that guarantees that anyone has the right to distribute his own personalized speech without the cooperation of others.

This brings me back to the whole idea of social contract between the individual and his society.  You can call it “rightsizing”, but that’s a dangerous idea that leads to authoritarianism, either on the far right (or alt-right) or far left.  (Yup, a smaller country like Singapore can get away with this, and China is trying to come up with some way to grade people’s social compatibility by 2020!)  Yet, on a personal level, there’s something wrong when we think of others as “unworthy” of becoming prioritized to enter our lives because they aren’t “good enough” and didn’t “make it”.  That used to be hidden more, but there is an implicit understanding that if too many of us think that way, we invite especially right-wing totalitarianism in the door (consider Logan Paul’s movie “Thinning” as a warning).  That may be one reason why I do see so much “pimping” of “other people’s causes” with appeals for “calls to action” all the time.  On one level, I resist getting involved with all these public “knocks on the door” but I probably can’t avoid them forever.  As Martin Fowler wrote in his 2014 book, everyone belongs “somewhere” in some group, and has to bond with people who are imperfect, far less than teen Clark Kent’s.  Everyone’s karma, and whatever fragmentary after life follows (and I think there is one, however fleeting and combinatorial) is greatly affected by what they depended on – and that means groups.  I resist “joining” resistances (and marching and shouting in demonstrations for specific groups), but I know that eventually there comes a point where it is probably impossible to survive without doing so, even without coming in your shorts.

There is a political point here.  If legal or practical considerations made it impossible for businesses to allow me my own platforms, changing what has has been the case since late 1996, I would be forced to work through groups, and advocate for or personally assist people who individually I did not approve of apart from the group.  But this could be better for a lot of people and could address some of the underlying causes of inequality.  This all relates to the “implicit content” problem with free speech, or the “skin in the game argument”.

Perhaps what I am seeing is something like an attack on introversion, a demand that every endeavor somehow relate to other people’s needs. Yet, as “The Good Doctor” shows us, every introverted people sometimes meet real needs, and save us.

Earlier legacy piece on the “free content” idea.

(Published: Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 6:30 PM EST)

U.S. needs a missile defense against North Korea or rogue states that would approach 100% reliability; nothing less will be acceptable

One of the fundamental issues in personal ethics has to do with facing singularities in life.  We will all die someday, and face something at the end, which could be sudden and random or predictable and prolonged.  But facing sudden violence from an enemy, especially fed by resentment, is especially problematical; for me, pimping victimization just won’t get it.

We generally think about appropriateness of behavior and bearing in terms of playing by the rules of the system, of “democratic capitalism” as it is in the West, given a narrow focus on personal responsibility and transparent consequences, with the expectation that the legal and physical infrastructures will always function with stability as they do now.  People who do well in life legitimately (from any Western or reasonably stable country) generally deal with this personalized moral paradigm well.  But a sizable minority of people (at least in my own social media feeds) talk as if they believe everyone has an obligation that they could start out with nothing and start over in a post-technology world – the doomsday preppers.

While there were scattered kooky publications predicting financial ruin throughout the nineties, most of us suddenly felt we had to deal with the idea of sudden apocalypse after 9/11.  Many asymmetric threats, including small nuclear bombs and dirty bombs, as well as biological weapons, became the subject of widespread speculation.  The anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11 contributed.  An online preview of a chapter on terrorism in my DADT II book got hacked on April Fools Day, 2002, at exactly the point where I was talking about small nuclear weapons.

Like Dr. Strangelove, we’ve learned to live with all this, and the fear, from my perspective, has receded.  But the scare has returned with the increasing threats from North Korea.  There are two main threats.  The most obvious would be North Korea’s long range ICBM’s actually being able to deliver thermonuclear weapons on US cities.  Off hand, it sounds like this may be more difficult for North Korea to achieve than most reports (and Kim Jong Un’s bravado) suggest but by mid 2019 it would probably be a realistic threat.  But in the meantime, based on scattered reports (including James Woolsey’s) it sounds like North Korea might well be able to detonate an EMP weapon at fairly high altitude, from either a satellite or missile;  this may be easier to do.  Such an event would much more likely be an E1 (from a fission device) than an E3 (fusion, or Carrington solar storms) but it could severely damage the US technological infrastructure and home devices, unless they were shielded. That’s why I disagree with some speculations that North Korea would only use nuclear blasts.

While North Korea has said it would use the weapons only if it felt threatened, it has recently said that all of its nukes are pointed at the US only. (That’s absurd; only the medium or long range ones can reach US territory.)  Since most of North Korea’s people as individuals have almost nothing, Kim Jong Un can play the card of targeting US civilians for personal loss, having everything to lose personally.  This was a common tactic of revolutionary communism in the 60s and 70s (consider the Khmer Rouge, and Patty Hearst, for that matter), long before Al Qaeda brought its own horror to American civilians. I think of this as the “Scarlet O’Hara” problem, in the opening of “Gone with the Wind”, where Scarlet first contemplates that her privileged life could be taken away from her by force during war.  But she gets it back (“I’ll never be hungry again”).  But maybe the rest of us would not be so personally resilient. (Think about a similar scene in the middle of “Cold Mountain”—“I can embroider but I can’t darn!”)

The concern about EMP has been known a long time (a Popular Mechanics magazine issue called attention it a week before 9/11) but concern increased somewhat in 2009 with the publication of Fortschen’s novel “One Second After”, which has yet to make it to film. Ted Koppel’s 2015 “Lights Out” book has reinforced the concern, as has perhaps NBC’s series “Revolution” (which really offers a different explanation for the blackout).  The US has an EMP commission, which was reportedly defunded in October.  As I’ve noted, it’s mostly conservative media outlets which have been willing to talk about this, some of them reporting explicit EMP threats from Kim and reporting that Trump recently has said he understands the threat.  So far, Huffington Post is the only major “liberal” publication to deal with it in detail.

That brings us to the subject of US missile defense.  If in fact NORAD and similar systems could knock down 100% of missiles that North Korea or any future rogue state could fire, the US citizens would not have to take the nuclear threat from Kim personally, as aimed at them out of vengeance.

Mainstream journalistic reports on current capacity are not too encouraging. A Washington Post article Nov. 29 by Bonnie Berkowitz and Aaron Steckelberg talk about a GMD system that right now could handle “only” 44 missiles.  (I thought, that’s the maximum number of characters in an IBM mainframe dataset name!)  But the New York Times on Nov. 16 has an article about layered defense by David Sanger and William Broad. PBS News Hour after Thanksgiving gave a more pessimistic assessment.

What, we may ask, happened to Reagan’s Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative)  proposal of 1983?  SDI would not have defended against all kinds of threats, but one of the issues was that the very concept contradicted MAD (mutually assured destruction) so it was seen as inappropriate for the traditional Cold War with the Soviet Union and China. But it makes a lot more sense in defending against rogue nations, who also could hire clandestine terrorists (as from Al Qaeda or ISIS).

An effective defense system would have to anticipate submarine launches or possibly from rogue hijacked ships (as seems to happen in “One Second After” and is speculated in Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”).

This brings up my own background.  Early in my career, my background seemed to point to defense, and my second full time job was working coding missile intercept subroutines in FORTRAN (later assembler) at the Naval Command System Support Activity (NAVCOSSACT) at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC, from 1971-1972, about nineteen months.  I worked in a four-story building near the river and Water Street which surely has been renovated by now, beyond recognition; but there were no windows inside. One of the systems was called “COMINT” and the results of the simulations were to be used in the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). Perhaps the result of these talks was a scaling back of defensive systems.  But I know from having worked there that the mathematics and theory of how to do everything was quite advanced at the time, 45 years ago.

One reason for my leaving this job and going to Univac in New Jersey in 1972 was the issue of my getting a Top Secret Clearance (I had Secret only) given my pseudo-psychiatric history after my expulsion from William and Mary in the Fall of 1961 (for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean covertly). I would have my programs keypunched (or would punch them myself) and turn in compiles and test shots upstairs at a “production control center”.  Eventually the modules and results would be taken to an “inner sanctum” of other programmers with top secret clearances.  We surely are way beyond all this now.

While in the Army (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, 1968), I spent a summer in the Pentagon.  I do remember conversations to the effect that the draft, enhancing conventional capability, were seen as part of psychological nuclear deterrent by enemies (i.e., we could demand some sacrifice by individuals if we had to).  I’ll get more into the “McNamara’s Morons” issue in a book review soon.  But the issue of exposure of civilians to involuntary risk and inequitable sacrifice (the Battle of Britain issue in 1940) was on people’s minds.  We see that today the way we refer to Vietnam-era draft dodging (both Clinton and Trump) by politicians today. I would go to the library and read articles on the impacts of nuclear strikes on various cities (I remember one about St. Louis, and in 1983 the TV movie “The Day After” would show Kansas City in such a situation; or later, “Testament“, showing northern  California residents awaiting radiation sickness after San Francisco gets it). Even then, though, the ability of the US to defend itself with missiles was said to be considerable, following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had unfolded suddenly while I was a pseudo-patient at NIH, and with my daytime student passes, the only one on the ward who understood what was going on.

I also worked three summers (1965 through 1967) at David Taylor Model Basin (near Washington) while finishing graduate work at KU; similarly, it seemed that weapons systems detection systems were really quite advanced then. Although computing has become personalized in a revolutionary way since then (the Internet and social media), the basic command and control hardware and software were intact in the 1960s, when we put a man on the Moon.

So, coming back to where we are with missile defense today, in short, it is not politically controversial to expect missile defense approaching 100%.  Having that capability would take Kim Jong Un’s direct threats to individual Americans (I take them personally) off the table.  Nothing less than that should be acceptable.

It would be necessary to take down missiles even before they enter continental US air space.  Missile tests that result in missiles go beyond Japan out into the Pacific should be shot down.

But, there are those in the world who want to see everyone brought equally low, to start over. That is radicalism 101.  It also relates to nihilism. (The extreme Left wants this to happen to almost everyone, like in North Korea;  the extreme Right wants to waste those whom it deems unfit to live – that’s what Nazism was all about.)  Right now, we have to wonder if we’ll have the world as we know it eighteen months from now.   There are plenty of moralizers on social media who will preach mandatory prepping for everyone;  you don’t know if thirty minutes from now, the lights go out forever.  It shouldn’t be that way.  We need to do the least controversial thing to protect ourselves, and make our missile defense solid.  Maybe then I could personally pay more attention to more localized “identity politics” which seems pretty meaningless right now.

The Libertarian Party had stressed missile defense, while avoiding foreign engagements, back in the 1990s, as Harry Browne had explained in his book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World“.  I remember his talking about this at a conference in Manassas VA in May 1996.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018. At 9:30 PM EST)

Community engagement v. individualism, with authoritarians watching

I have a friend in the Virginia libertarian circles, Rick Sincere, who recently has run some interesting guests posts on his blog, like this recent one on Masterpiece Cakeshop.

I do have a few guest posts on my two newer WordPress blogs (“Blogtyrant” really encourages the practice) but this one will be a pseudo-guest post, a Smerconish-like compendium of some feedback from a friend in the past twenty four hours after a typical social in the “gay establishment” with all the usual abstract trappings about equality.

He shared with me the parable of Rebekah Mercer (think, Mercer County New Jersey, where I lived for my first job with RCA, in Princeton, starting in 1970), daughter of the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, conveyed in this Washington Post article January 5 by Kyle Swenson.  My friend’s narrative focused on the role of pollster and political operative Patrick Cladell in convincing the family that Donald Trump needed to become their Mr. Smith who would go to Washington and wreck the establishment.

The article focuses on the resentment of the elites by just part of the far right.  True, the Left had carried opposition to pipelines and drilling too far, if the nation really needs to go to autarky on energy. True, foreign competition had destroyed a lot of manufacturing jobs – and the hedge fund managers didn’t recognize the irony of their opposing seeing the middle class follow them into the world of hucksterism (as I found out in many job interviews in the 2000’s) when we didn’t make enough of our own stuff.  Indeed, that’s a legitimate national security concern.  Up to some point, the nationalism of Steve Bannon had to make sense to them.  And, true enough, the meddlesomeness of Obamacare hurt a lot of young adults, who were forced to pay higher premiums to take care of “other people’s problems” (like opioid) that they might be unlikely to encounter themselves.

The Mercers probably didn’t care so much about the social issues:  they just resented the idea of people fighting for different treatment for different groups instead of fighting for themselves as individuals. (Maybe that means it’s OK to be a charismatic superhero-like cis gay man [even a comic book space alien] but not a sissy  and not an earthly immigrant.)  But Robert, like Donald, shared a personal revulsion for personal involvement with “losers”. A man’s real worth was his financial network, like a grade for one’s life.

But then something else happened. Trump carried his authoritarian streak (and need for control and self-gratification as the leader) much further than the Mercers probably wanted.  But he was the best “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (Frank Capra’s 1939 film for Columbia, legacy review) that they could find.

But what happened, as we know, that Trump played to a base who see things more in terms of a strong politician taking care of them than in terms of actual policy fixes.  And as Michael Moore pointed out, a lot of people just wanted a “Blow Up”, a revolution – to disrupt the lives of the elites, even if you destroyed the country in the process.

All of this indeed leads to a county in increased danger, particularly from one particular enemy, and detracts from orderly solutions to all of our inequality problems.

Yes, it puts me on the spot.  While I leverage asymmetry online to establish myself as an individual, apart for the group, I probably ask for new dangers, from combative enemies could can also leverage the same asymmetry.

There are many existential threats out there to my continuing my own style of free speech, as I’ve covered before (the gratuitousness problem).  I’ll be coming back to some of the details (probably the Section 230 issues are more important than network neutrality) soon, but I wanted to revisit the idea of “the privilege of being listened to” as in my DADT III book.  One idea is that, before someone is “heard” as an individual he (or she or “they”) needs to show some kind of community engagement.

That sounds like almost “forced” volunteerism, a step down from national service, supervised by the bureaucracy of charities and nonprofits.

Now, there are two kinds of volunteerism to start.  One is really volunteering for political activism.  A friend suggested volunteering a little a HRC or some similar group (NLGTF) to learn what “group identity” sensitivity is all about (given all my criticism of “trigger warnings”, “microaggressions”, and “intersectionality”).  Now, like in the movie “Rebirth”, I think there is something wrong with volunteering to “look” or “spectate”.  I wouldn’t do that unless I was completely with the goals of the group (as opposed to the liberty interests of individuals in the group, which Rick Sincere’s blog above deals with).  My own father used to deploy the phrase “as a group” when he talked about race (unfortunately quoting the Bible wrong). Bill Clinton had to deny that lifting the military ban would be about “group rights”.

That said, I do engage of activism of sorts with my blogs – these days, mostly on sustainability for our civilization, where, yes, I’ve focused on the EMP issue as possibly posing a singularity-type threat.  Along the lines of the work I have done (I don’t mean with a therapist), I would love to work for a news organization and have a press pass.  Then, yes, I might be able to cover HRC activism with some objectivity.  But I can see covering events regarding, for example, net neutrality or Section 230. I don’t see marching on picket lines over these issues, however.

The other kinds of volunteerism is to help people – with real needs.  But that forks in a few direction.

I did this in the 1980s and less in the 1990s with the AIDS crisis, because it had reared up in my own life (although I didn’t get infected because of reverse Darwinism – “The Normal Heart”).  I was a “baby buddy” for a time in 1986-87 at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas.  I was also the pain that questioned the gay politicians for wanting to get out of some of the “extended personal responsibility” issues, which got dangerous  (the “don’t take the test” crowd).  In the 1990s, I volunteered one night a month for a while at Food and Friends counting donations when it was located in the Navy Yard-Waterfront (Washington).

I have spot-volunteered, like at a local church’s monthly “community assistance” dinners and handout sessions, but not found it terribly meaningful.  Some volunteer activities ask for more help than they need because they may or may not need the bodies for a short time.

Now, as with the examples I gave, you can focus volunteerism on “groups” to which you have “belonged” (whether or not you “chose to”).  You can focus on whether giving goes to that group, or to any individuals in need.  And I can’t blow off the group idea completely.  Consider Trump’s joke about Pence’s past attitude toward “LGBT people” (as a group”), “Oh, he wants to hang ‘em all”. (I remember the 1968 Clint Eastwood movie “Hang ‘em High”).  It sounds funny even on the “gay right”.  But there’s a point where it isn’t.  You can be in the wrong group whether you chose to or not.  Imagine living in Germany in the 1930s. That does help grasp the sensitivities surrounding Charlottesville.

The effectiveness of volunteerism depends on the skills you have. I could imagine directing chess tournaments in underprivileged areas – but it would be desirable to be as effective a chess player as possible first. I can imagine helping people not fall for phishing scams.

But a lot of times charities want volunteers to go out of their own boxes.  The Red Cross, for example, wants volunteers to install smoke detectors in low income homes.  That would make more sense if I had kept the trust house.

There is another direction that “real needs” can fork to — actually taking responsibility for supporting or hosting someone.

So, the bottom line is, I have to finish my own work, on my issues as I have laid them out, before I’m much good on “somebody else’s” problems and supervision.  I have my own goals and path and self-direction and strategy. It takes time and freedom from disruption to carry out. I can’t let it be negotiable.  Yet I realize that if I didn’t have this, I’d have to be more amenable to “groups” to “survive”. Maybe that is better for a lot of other people.

I’ve had some discussion with the friend telling me he cannot be open online about controversial topics. This gets back to what I’ve called “conflict of interest” over publicly available speech. I’ve covered this before with links, but it’s good to reiterate a couple things.  If someone has direct reports on the job or the ability to pass “underwriting” judgments on others, then off-the-job policy opinions that can easily be found by others (as by search engines or by public social media pages) put the relationship between the associate and stakeholders at potential risk, even legally (like hostile workplace). One way to handle this is for an employer to insist that the person’s only public social media presence be the official work one, and that all private social media communications be under full privacy settings. If you have certain kinds of jobs, you relinquish the right of “self-publication” (or self-distribution).

(Posted: Saturday, Jan. 6, 2017 at 9 PM EST)

Most organizations get very pushy online in demanding donations and tribal loyalty

I know it’s the end of the tax year, so I shouldn’t be perturbed about the flood of emails begging for donations and claiming sponsors have promised matching donation.

At the very least, I get annoyed at the pimping of need and causes to me.  Very often, an activist site, often for a narrow issue, and often polarized on either the far Left or far Right, and very tribal in tone, will push big donate buttons on their websites and emails or Facebook posts, and claim some calamity will surely fall to their constituents, who are supposed to include me, if not enough people give.

I often hear claims about deadlines and funds remaining to be raised.

And I often see pleas of extreme personal need.

I get especially annoyed at the false personalization of emails, addressed to me by name when I know they are spammed.  And some groups want to borrow my websites as a platform for their own fundraisers.  Besides from obvious branding questions, it appears I don’t “belong” to anyone, do I.

So I must sound like Scrooge, when too many parties claim to represent their own Tiny Tim.

Or maybe I sound like John Paul Getty, who reasons if you give in to one unreasonable demand, you invite them all.

There are a few “offenders” who stand out.  On the network neutrality issue, one activist organization seems to want to represent all Internet speakers.  I digress enough here to admit that there is a legitimate question of how far the government needs to regulate a “quasi-utility” just as it has to regulate financial institutions.

In the LGBTQ world, activists often go out of their way to make “oppressed groups” through intersectionality of sub-populations.  Indeed, most of the actions of the Trump administration that sound anti-gay sounds like attempts to stop the recognition of group oppression (although I agree with the activists that Trump was very wrong on the transgender military issue, especially the way he handled it;  and he was very wrong with some aspects of his travel bans).

I’ll also add that I noticed a tweet from a good friend in the media, who noted a charity helping Syrian refugees with war injuries, who said he had donated and that “you should to.”  My immediate reaction is, no one should tell me what my own charitable priorities should be.  (It’s just not good to tell people “You should (or shouldn’t) do that.”  I remember that from my William and Mary days.  Judge not that ye be judged.) But I looked into this charity, and could not find a mailing address (which would allow me to use my trust to set them up as a recipient for automated donations through a bank – even if Wells Fargo is far from perfect in its own ethics).  I contacted them, and they directed me to their FAQ.  It seems like they want you to use their portal, their way.  They seem to want the special attention.

Of course, I know the ropes;  going through channels could take chunks out of donations. In other cases, it could deny telemarketers or fund raisers their cuts, a chance to make a living.  I used to call for the Minnesota Orchestra, and later the National Symphony, myself.

So here I am, in my own ivory tower.  I generally “assess” people as individuals acting on their own, not as members of this-or-that group first.  I’ve covered by own ideas of subsumed individual morality (my “DADT IV” sequence from early 2016) here before.

Look at what I did for twenty years:  although I was initially motivated by “gays in the military” as the issue evolved under Clinton in the 1990s, I developed a way of covering “all” the issues bearing on individual liberty, balanced against “common good”, and connecting the dots and building a topology among them. With purely passive strategy of letting people find my material, I managed to become effective in influencing debate (I think I have been so with the EMP issue lately), but I don’t “help” people in reaching out to them according to specific narrow adaptive needs.  I go against the grain of how things are usually done in a free, capitalist society.

Maybe I have to accept the way the game is played.  Most people running small businesses and charities  expect others to be sociable enough to respond to solicitations and manipulations at some point.  Most people have enough responsibility for others that they have to take more risks than I do and have to accept more annoyance from others than I will.  So should I “get over it”?

Indeed, in some of the sales jobs I did try, the advice was always to manipulate people and create urgency for them, but make them pay attention to something not already a priority for them.

That certainly sounds like the tone of “Blogtyrant’s” recommendations, which seem directed at reasoning “the proles” in the real world, not the “high and mighty”, or even the “shy and mighty”.

Indeed, the Russian campaign of disinformation and divisioning of the American people though social media bots may have been predicated on the idea that “elites” (like me) wouldn’t care what “the proles” thought and wouldn’t notice that “average Joe’s” really would let hucksters become their “voice” (aka Trump).

All this said, I have to admit that history shows us that, very often, individuals do find themselves “oppressed” only because of a particular group membership.  I tend to think of joining a cause as a personal cop-out, trading the authority of one power for that of a newer revolutionary one, which will still demand my obedience.  But I don’t know how this would work if my “soul” had mapped to a black slave in the US in 1861, or to a Jew in Germany in the 1930s. I would have been the first exterminated, with no future at all for my own sensibilities in this universe.  Sometimes, you have to fit in if you want to live.

(Posted: Saturday, December 30, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

Alexei Wood’s acquittal in the J20 trial gives independent journalists uneasy relief

Journalist Alexei Wood and five other defendants were acquitted of charges that could have led to decades in prison, after they were picked up by police in a “kettling” operation to stop the rioting in downtown Washington DC on Inauguration Day, protesting Donald Trump’s presidency.

Democracy Now presents an interview here between Amy Goodman, Brett Cohen and Mr. Alexei Wood, along with a 51-minute video here.

Other sites (such as Truthout, even more so than this one) have used this case as a reason to phrase appeals for money for independent journalism, claiming that the current government is hostile to journalists.

There is a lot going on here.  First, the Trump administration is a bit hostile (on Twitter especially) to established liberal media (like CNN).  He has not turned out to be hostile to independent bloggers or “citizen journalists” as I had once feared he might (as on my Nov. 7, 2016 post).  Perhaps he sees independent bloggers as calling out the media on insufficient reporting on some aspects of national security threats (like North Korea and EMP).   In countries like Egypt, Turkey, and particularly China, governments have been very harsh on independent media and sometimes have control of the more established channels.  Trump is nowhere close to that.  But Trump’s joking about wanting to reserve the right to jail political opponents whom he defeated (Mrs. Clinton) is not funny.

Secondly, there is the effect of social media tribalism, which now seems to have infected both the right and left.  There is an impression that someone who reports on a controversial group just to make a name for himself (if not already part of a journalistic establishment) is merely giving credibility to dangerous groups.  By that reasoning, reporters who filmed the J20 protests were giving credibility to Antifa-like protests but moreover to the violence that would accompany any “revolution”.  In that sense, the reporters are thought to have incited violence, despite the usual standard of “imminent threat of lawless action”. This sort of thinking has been particularly applied to people who might have wanted to to cover extreme right-wing groups or white supremacists.  This kind of reporting might be more acceptable if done by an established journalist supposedly from the other side (like Kamau Bell’s series “United Shades of America” on CNN covering the KKK).

I recently traveled to Washington VA and Flint Hill VA, to report the aggressive lawn pamphleting in the area by KKK elements. (Oh, please, don’t mention the People’s Party’s lettuce boycotts in the early 1970s.)  Does my doing so only give importance to such activity?   But I did not even know about the Charlottesville rightwing march on Aug. 11 in advance, although I might have been tempted to “watch” and film had I known.  I did know about the protests planned for Inauguration Day but simply stayed home to listen to the speech.  It’s conceivable that had I been there and filmed I could have been kettled and charged.  I have covered BLM marches but mainly filmed and “participated” minimally.  I visited Baltimore Sandtown right after the riots, but some independent journalists reported being pinned down by weapons fire and combat during the 2015 event.

Progressive interview with Mr. Wood.

(Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

“Twitter Purge” renews debate on what is an acceptable “group” and what is “affiliation”

After the Charlottesville riots, there was a lot of flak when Trump seemed to speak of “groups” on the Far Right and Far Left as morally equivalent, and was not willing to announce that White supremacists or KKK-like groups are morally less acceptable than, say, extreme Communist groups (or groups that claim they are just resisting fascism or white or Christian supremacy).

Conor Friedersdorf expanded on all this with an Aug. 31 piece in The Atlantic, “How to Distinguish Between White Supremacists, Antifa, and Black Lives Matter.”  (Maybe the preposition should be “among”.)

While I follow his reasoning:  historical experience with the purposes of a group does matter, I would have a few questions. First, it appears that domestic hate groups have First Amendment protections that foreign terror groups do not.  It appears that the legal consequences, in federal criminal justice, for supporting a hate group normally apply only to foreign organizations, unless a domestic organization has been found to launch a specific conspiracy to commit a specific crime (like another OKC).

Nevertheless, employers (including the federal government in the past) have certainly been able to deny employment or fire people for membership in “known” groups, and this used to be more true of membership in the Communist Party.

The question has arisen because Twitter recently announced a policy change where starting today it will suspend or close accounts of those with “affiliation” to terror groups, including domestic hate groups (usually right wing such as neo-Nazi or white supremacist). In fact, there was a high profile suspension of someone Trump had retweeted today.

Then the rather obvious question becomes, what is a “group” and what does “affiliation” mean?  Is retweeting the group evidence of affiliation, or repeatedly visiting the sites (which might be detectable, at least by hacking).  Twitter probably just means that people already well known to be connected to a group can’t use the platform to send sanitized messages to recruit people (and this could be motivated by ISIS more than by neo-Nazis).

Another interesting part of Twitter’s rules was the mention of the targeting of civilians for political purposes.  But this is indeed what some of our enemies do, as have other aggressors in most other large wars.  The US did this in retaliation, as with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another problem is that the “Left” in the US sometimes demands that others (like independent bloggers like me) go along with their combativeness if the enemy (neo-Nazis in this case) is egregious enough or poses a specific threat to a specific protected group (blacks or Jews or even gays and trans).  But combativeness (as Flemming Rose at Cato has often pointed out) appeals to the idea that “the end justifies the means” and finally can result in a group’s have intentions that are as dangerous of the enemy it replaced.  I don’t like to be drawn into passing relative judgment on groups.  It’s like saying that somehow Stalin (or even Kim Jong Un) is “better” than Hitler.  History teaches us that Leftist regimes are often as repressive as those they had replaced (although Vietnam and China have gradually become somewhat acceptable countries).

(Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

My own existentialism

Throughout much of my I.T. career, especially the last fifteen years or so, I was often preoccupied with the possible consequences of any mistakes by me as an individual contributor.  I did have to get used to it. But in retirement, the idea that one can fall by making enemies or being on the wrong side, has made a troubling comeback, sometimes with ironic recalls of pressures earlier in my life to fit in vertically to social structures set up by others, to value other people in these communities more than my own head.

There is a lot more attention to asymmetry today, and to the randomness of “bad luck” and misfortune. I’ve never been OK with playing up victimization, especially when enhanced by belonging to an oppressed group. I go to memorial services, too; but I don’t brand myself by going to bat publicly for everyone out there on social media who is losing out because of disadvantage.

One idea that seems very critical to me is that, when something happens to “you”, especially because of someone else’s wrongdoing, recovering from it still starts with “you” before anyone else.  That’s not politics or social values; that’s just plain logic.  Otherwise, life will go on without you.  Of course, the full weight of the law or other agency (like military force) can be brought against perpetrators, terrorists, or ordinary bullies. But, I’ve never seen “sacrifice” as particularly honorable.  That kind of thinking played out bigtime in the days of the Vietnam era draft, when people with less privilege wound up making more of the sacrifices in combat. Likewise, it has, even with a volunteer army but a “backdoor” stop-loss draft, followed suit in more recent wars, like Iraq. You still see this today with risky civilian volunteerism, where overseas or in local volunteer fire departments.

So, then, we come to the inequality debate, which I covered today again in reviewing Robert Reich’s movie “Saving Capitalism”.   Much of the traditional debate has to do with classes of people, groups, and the way power structures reinforce themselves.  Yet, I still feel this all traces back to what we expect of every individual.

The unpredictability of personal tragedy plays out in many possibilities.  Besides the usual risks of drunk drivers and some older street crime, we have to deal today with ideologically driven terrorism, as if reaches those who have fallen behind in a hyperindividualistic society.  That plays into the immigration debate.  It’s still true, that in the US, the risk of dying from a lone wolf terror act is much lower than most other accidental perils, and such observations are used to justify a kinder policy on immigration (including asylum) than Trump will allow (or promised his base). But it also underscores the idea that those who resent our “elitism” are sometimes turning our free speech, especially on the Internet (with ungated speech) against us, with the terror recruiting, and the ease of finding destructive information online.  (But, remember, it wasn’t that hard in print before the Internet.  Remember Paladin Press?)

I say I don’t like to get into intersectionality or helping people leverage their collective oppression. Yet, everyone belongs to something, to various groups, often starting with family of origin. Hostility happens to groups as well as individuals, so people wind up as individuals pay the price for what their groups are perceived (often wrongly) to others.

That gets us back to the grim possibility of a real national catastrophe promulgated by a determined enemy, most recently by North Korea, as in recent posts.

That is what drives the moralizing of the doomsday preppers (like The Survival Mom on Facebook), who want everyone to have local, vertical value to others in very personal ways working with their hands, before they get any traction in a more global and abstract experience.  This is not a good thing for the dilettantes of the world, although it is possible that sometimes a self-absorbed  “austistic” person like “Shaun Murphy” has such indispensable talents in some area that still fits in.  For the rest of those people “like me”, it very much becomes a matter of “pay your dues” and “right-sizing”.  A lot of people believe that, before you are heard or listened to, you need to fit in to community engagement, as defined by the needs of others. In the future this idea of “no spectators” and putting “your own skin in the game” before you speak, could get formalized.  Morality finally gets allocated down to the individual from all his groups (my “DADT-IV” sequence).

All of that means that there is a great deal of moral premium in an individual’s adapting to whatever circumstances he or she must live in, because others can be affected or targeted, or have to take risks in “your” stead.  That was certainly the case when I was growing up (when “cowardice” was a real crime against the group).  Many protest movements turn out to be manipulative or based on overblown or frivolous interpretations of policy changes, where activists try to shame others into joining and become belligerent on their own. On the other hand, once in a while, you do have to “enlist”.  You have to figure out when it’s for real.  Dealing, as an individual, with the collective combativeness of others has indeed become a real problem.

These are ominous times for individualistic speakers who map out the flaws of everyone else without any particular commitment.  Is that what my own “do ask do tell” and “connecting the dots” have come to?  Despite perceptions to the contrary (and the illusion provided by some court wins as with COPA in 2007).  Although the issue is protracted and complicated, issues like the revoking of net neutrality and of Section 230 downstream liability protections, could seriously erode the continuation of independent speech, without the tribal influences of organizations on one side of another, constantly wanting to take over my voice with their partisan pimping.  Yet, “tribalism” at least raises the questions of how much people really matter (to me), both horizontally (minorities) and vertically (“taking care of your own first”).  Why speak if you don’t care about the people (personally) whose lives you purport to affect?  This is, at least, a “puzzlement” as in “The King and I”.  Well, if they aren’t “good enough” for me (absorbed by my own world), then why will I never show up in my shorts?   And it – addiction to the leverage of one’s own past shame — can become life threatening.  But for many “victims”, it is already too late.

(Posted: 10:45 PM EST Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017)

North Korea, EMP, and martial law: mainstream media needs to wake up and do the fact-checking now

On Sunday, July 1, 2018, a favorite gay disco of mine, Town Danceboutique (Washington, D.C.), closes (after a year of notice) for real estate development.

But Wednesday July 4, 2018, the entire country could well be in North Korea’s nuclear crosshairs, if the timetable that seems to emerge from recent news really holds. And I’ve had at least one person claim to me that by them much of the nation could see martial law.  I’ll come back to that.

We know that on November 28, North Korea tested its largest missile ever, on a parabolic path that took it 2800 miles up, to land short of Japan with no payload. Your Physics 101 test problem would have its maximum range if fired on a “baseball home run” path to be about 8000 miles over the Great Circle, enough to reach all of the continental U.S.

Experts seem to disagree on how much the weight of even a miniaturized thermonuclear weapon would reduce the range. Credible analysts also say that the missile seemed to break up on re-entry, into perhaps three pieces, and that other aspects of the North Korean photos, like the background star constellations, were doctored.  All of this may suggest that technically it is still much more difficult for North Korea to lob a thermonuclear weapon over the US than the doomsday preppers believe.  Still, six months sounds like a reasonable benchmark.

So Trump may feel pressured to create a pre-emptive attack   well before June 2018, even given the horrific predictions of what happens to South Korea, and perhaps Japan, even Guam.  “The war will be fought in their back yard, not ours”, Senator Lindsey Graham rants.  This is one game where there is no home field advantage, no walk-off win;  you have to win on the road.

Recently NBC News reported (story and video by Cynthia McFadden et al, link) on the possibility that the US could disable North Korean missile control with a stealth cruise missile or fighter attack (similar to those in this week’s controversial maneuvers with South Korea) blaring non-nuclear flux microwaves (E1 level), which would destroy electronics but not kill people, most of whom (outside the privileged in Pyongyang) live without electricity anyway. But the missiles are certainly hidden underground and perhaps shielded in Faraday fashion. Still, this sounds like the “least bad” military option Trump has.

That leaves us with one other nagging problem that the mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about.  That is, the possibility of an EMP attack, not only on South Korea or Japan, but even on the continental U.S.

Former CIA chief James Woolsey has already warned us (March 7, 2017 post) that North Korea could launch a small device from its “Shining Star” satellite.  But the more obvious question would be, is it easier technically for North Korea to detonate a weapon at high altitude in flight, possibly over north central US, than at the end of the route at a target?  No mainstream publication seems to have taken this question up yet.

Last week, Fox News ran a story reporting that Kim Jong Un had threatened such an attack (see Nov. 7) – and it’s pretty obvious that he would.  I see from YouTube that Fox has run similar stories before,  But the mainstream news sites have given very little explicit attention to these possibilities.  I do recall a story on Vox concerning solar storms (Sept 13, 2016) and a later similar one in the Wall Street Journal. And I also see that I’ve covered the mainstream media’s reticence on this matter on Sept. 8, 2017.

Still, it seems that the mainstream media owes us a major factfinding effort on questions like (1) the preparedness of the three major power grids for huge transformer overloads (there is talk of “neutral ground circuit technology”), and (2) the preparedness of the tech industry for extreme disruption, by distributing cloud data (which they already do) around the world, and the possibility of building Faraday-like protections for their servers.

Keep in mind, the electromagnetic pulse threat has two major components.  The E3 component, which is a delayed effect from thermonuclear weapons and is similar to extremely large coronal mass ejections from solar storms, is destructive to power grid transformers and other circuitry, at least with current technology. The E1 component is what destroys consumer electronics and ignitions of many cars.  (There is a good question as to whether solid state drives are more immune than traditional hard drives, for example, since they the new stuff is less sensitive to ordinary magnets).  The E1 component can come from smaller (fission) nuclear weapons (more likely from a DPRK ICBM or mid range missile or possibly satellite), and also comes from non-nuclear microwaves (which are much more local because they are usually detonated at low altitude closer to targets – the US military can use them in Afghanistan now).

With all this discussion, we should not lose sight of the cyber threats, which I think are more difficult for an enemy to carry out (against infrastructure) than popular legend suggests, but here is a prediction for an incident even this week.

Conventional reporting suggests that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on becoming a nuclear power is purely defensive.  I would wonder if the old Vietnam era Domino Theory applies:  he could later try to force us to leave South Korea or lift all sanctions.  The EMP peril is a very novel threat because of our unprecedented dependence on technology.  An enemy could conclude, if his own people will eat grass, that we aren’t resilient enough personally as civilians to recover from loss and hardship and be ever more tempted into aggression. North Korea has almost certainly tried to work with other terrorists like ISIS out of shear resentment of western values.

It does seem that the mainstream media is distracted by the more obvious stories about Trump’s presidency:  the Flynn and Manafort investigations, Trump’s claim he can get away with “obstruction of justice”, the Jerusalem move announced today.

I won’t moralize here about civilian preparedness (like “The Survival Mom” on Facebook) as I have before and will again. But that does bring back the idea of martial law, which an authoritarian president presumably could want to find an excuse to implement so that he has more “control”.

The Wikipedia article (on martial law in the U.S.) gives a detailed history of is use, most recently in 1961 in Montgomery Alabama as a response to the “Freedom Riders” – that was shortly before I graduated from high school, and I don’t recall this news.  Hawii was under martial law from Pearl Harbor until 1944.   It is difficult to suspend habeas corpus under US law, given especially the Posse Comitatus Act, which is supposed to shield civilians from military intervention – yet enemies are likely to regard American civilians as (un)deserving combatants.

I am not so cynical as to believe that Trump wants to see half the country without power for a year so he can seize control.  Consider Dan Trachtenberg’s film “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016). That reminds me of conspiracy theories where right-wing authorities start war and live in luxury underground.  Who wants that?  The sci-fi conspiracy to escape from Earth (if possible) makes more psychological sense to me.

I would be more concerned that if a real catastrophe occurred, and most of the country were without power for months, the entire government would fall and foreign powers, which could be China, or could be Islamist, could take over.  That does bring up personal morality again, and that’s another post that’s coming.

We’d better not blow this.  It’s hard for me to join “identity groups” so concerned about narrow oppression (bathroom and “religious freedom” bills) when there are issues like this, at least as potentially dangerous to me personally as was the Vietnam War (I stayed out of combat because of education and “privilege”) and later AIDS (I never got infected).  The lessons that Scarlet O’Hara had to learn sound appropriate.

I will challenge the major networks and news outlets to get to the facts (and not leave this to conservative sites and groups like Resilient Societies), and I am available for hire (at 74, in “retirement”) to help them do this.  I’ve really collected and organized a lot of material. What a way to go back to work.  I even bought a suit and updated my Linked-In profile, while there is still time.

I wish I could get back to believing in Google’s plans for quantum computing as our future.

Update: Dec 7  (“Pearl Harbor Day”): 10 AM EST

Probably by coincidence I got a letter to my own mailbox in my condo building about a planned power outage for “improving a portion of the energy grid that serves your area.”  Upon checking, this may be related to a specific problem some months ago before I moved in. But Dominion Energy of Virginia has been mentioned as one of the few companies so far preparing to install neutral ground circuits that are supposed to protect transformers from extreme surges, as with solar storms or possibly terror attacks.

The mainstream media really does need to start “connecting the dots” on this one and not leave it to right-wing sites, amateur bloggers, and suspense and sci-fi novelists to figure out.

 

(Posted: Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

Cato Institute holds forum on “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”

Today, Tuesday November 28, 2017, the Cato Institute held a 90-minute symposium “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”.

The basic link is here.  (Cato will presumably supply the entire video in the live space soon.)

The event was moderate by Marian L. Tupy, and featured Danish author Flemming Rose (author of “The Tyranny of Silence”, now a Cato fellow), and Christina Hoff Sommers. Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute.

Rose focused at first on UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1965), Article 20, Paragraph 2, which included a definition of “hate speech” to include “any advocacy or national, religious or racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence…”.   That is, incitement is more than incitement for near term lawless action (as in the US); it includes encouraging others to discriminate. The US and most European countries voted against this at first, but most European countries have come around to this notion in their hate speech laws today.  Authoritarian countries favored this approach, because dictators think that they can stay in power if various minority groups are placated.

Rose traced legal sanctions against both hate speech and fake news distribution to the early days of Communism, back with the Bolshevik revolution (like the 1981 movie “Reds”) where news distribution was viewed in terms of propaganda.  Fake news manipulation (as a propaganda exercise) by foreign enemies is more likely when those who view themselves as educated and elite (“Hillary-like”) have little personal contact with those who are not;  in 2016 the Russians seem to have taken advantage of unawareness of “populism” by more conventional policy pundits.  But it should be obvious that fake news runs the legal risks of libel and defamation litigation, which may be a little easier to parry in the US than in Europe.

Rose also made the point that minorities need free speech to advance themselves, rather than regard free speech as an incitement or invitation to others to continue discrimination.

Authoritarian and leftist interpretation of hate speech law tends to give very little credit to the individual to be able to think and learn from himself, but assumes people will vote in terms of tribal interests, which often is true (as we found out with the election of Trump and Russian meddling). Rose included some panels of modern European fake news law, from Germany and Italy.

Sommers talked about the rapid expansion of campus speech codes, with ideas like trigger warnings and microaggressions and safe spaces, since about 2010.  This seems to have developed rather suddenly. Sommers attributed the rise of these campus speech codes to an ideology of “intersectionality”, a theory of multidimensional group oppression.

At least two questions from the audience came from undergraduate college students, one at GWU, who said that influence of “intersectional” thinking had been quite shocking to him. Milo Yiannopoulos had spent a good part of his “Dangerous” book explaining the perils of this idea.  But other writers, as in the transgender community recently, have tried to make a lot of it.  Again, there seems to be a loss of the idea that self-concept should come from the self (a tautology) and not inherited group identification.

Several thoughts need reinforcement. One is that “hate speech” codes don’t draw a clear line between actual commission of acts and becoming connected to others doing bad things (like “watching” and journaling but not intervening — the “no spectators” idea).  Another is that these collectivist behavior norms regard “systematic” discrimination against identifiable groups (or “intersections” of groups) as akin to actual violence and aggression against the constituent individuals.  Still another idea is that “meta-speech”, where commentators or journalists speak about the discriminatory value systems of the past in order to impart a sense of history, sometimes may come across as an invitation or gratuitous reminder for aggressive politicians to try the same behaviors again;  speakers should be expected to put their own skin in the game.  Finally, there is a loss of interest in individualism itself, partly because “hyper-individualism” tends to leave a lot of people behind as less “valuable”. There is more emphasis on belonging to the tribe or group, or at least in meeting standards of supervised community engagement.

Many attendees had seen the breaking news of (Communist) North Korea’s missile test today on their smartphone just before the session started.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

SESTA clears Senate committee, and Congress seems serious about stopping trafficking, even if it requires sacrifices from Internet users — and it seems superfluous

Electronic Frontier Foundation has reported that the Senate Commerce Committee has approved a version of SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, S. 1693.  Elliot Harmon’s article calls it “still an awful bill”.   Harmon goes into the feasibility of using automated filters to detect trafficking-related material, which very large companies like Google and Facebook might be half-way OK with. We saw this debate on the COPA trial, about filtering, more than a decade ago (I attended one day of that trial in Philadelphia in October 2006). No doubt, automated filtering would cause a lot of false positives and implicit self-censoring.

Apparently the bill contains or uses a “manager’s amendment”  (text) floated by John Thune (R-SD) which tries to deal with the degree of knowledge that a platform may have about its users.  The theory seems to be that it is easy to recognize the intentions of customers of Backpage but not of a shared hosting service. Sophia Cope criticizes the amendment here.

Elliot Harmon also writes that the Internet Association (which represents large companies like Google) has given some lukewarm support to modified versions of SESTA, which would not affect large companies as much as small startups that want user-generated content   It’s important to note that SESTA (and a related House bill) could make it harder for victims of trafficking to discuss what happened to them online, an unintended consequence, perhaps.  Some observers have said that the law regarding sex trafficking should be patterned after child pornography (where the law seems to work without too much interference of users) and that the law is already “there” now.

But “Law.com” has published a historical summary by Cindy Cohn and Jamie Williams that traces the history of Section 230 all the way back to a possibly libelous item in an AOL message board regarding Oklahoma City (the Zeran case).  Then others wanted to punish Craigslist and other sites for allowing users to post ads that were discriminatory in a Civil Rights sense. The law need to recognize the difference between a publisher and a distributor (and a simple utility, like a telecom company, which can migrate us toward the network neutrality debate).   Facebook and Twitter are arguably a lot more involved with what their users do than are shared hosting sites like BlueHost and Verio, an observation that seems to get overlooked.   It’s interesting that some observers think this puts Wikipedia at particular risk.

I don’t have much an issue with my blogs, because the volume of comments I get is small (thanks to the diversion by Facebook) these days compared to 8 years ago.  When I accept a guest post, I should add that Section 230 would not protect me, since I really have become the “publisher” so if a guest post is controversial, I tend to fact-check some of the content (especially accusations of crimes) myself online.

I’d also say that a recent story by Mitch Stoltz about Sci-Hub, relating to the Open Access debate which, for example. Jack Andraka has stimulated in some of his Ted Talks, gets to be relevant (in the sense that DMCA Safe Harbor is the analogy to Section 230 in the copyright law world). A federal court in Virginia ruled against Sci-Hub (Alexandra Elbakyan) recently after a complaint by a particular science journal, the American Chemical Society  But it also put intermediaries (ranging from hosting companies to search engines) at unpredictable risk if they support “open access” sites like this. The case also runs some risk of conflating copyright issues with trademark, but that’s a bit peripheral to discussing 230 itself.

Again, I think we have a major break in our society over the value of personalized free speech (outside of the control of organizational hierarchy and aggregate partisan or identity politics).  It’s particularly discouraging when you look at reports of surveys at campuses where students seem to believe that safe places are more important than open debate, and that some things should not be discussed openly (especially involving “oppressed” minorities) because debating them implies that the issues are not settled and that societal protections could be taken away again by future political changes (Trump doesn’t help). We’ve noted here a lot of the other issues besides defamation, privacy and copyright; they include bullying, stalking, hate speech, terror recruiting, fake news, and even manipulation of elections (am issue we already had an earlier run-in about in the mid 2000s over campaign finance reform, well before Russia and Trump and even Facebook). So it’s understandable that many people, maybe used to tribal values and culture, could view user-generated content as a gratuitous luxury for some (the more privileged like me) that diverts attention from remedying inequality and protecting minorities.  Many people think everyone should operate only by participating in organized social structures run top-down, but that throws us back, at least slouching toward authoritarianism (Trump is the obvious example). That is how societies like Russia, China, and say Singapore see things (let alone the world of radical Islam, or the hyper-communism of North Korea).

The permissive climate for user-generated content that has evolved, almost by default, since the late 1990s, seems to presume individuals can speak and act on their own, without too much concern about their group affiliations.  That idea from Ayn Rand doesn’t seem to represent how real people express themselves in social media, so a lot of us (like me) seem to be preaching to our own choirs, and not “caring” personally about people out of our own “cognitive”  circles.  We have our own kind of tribalism.

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 at 2 PM EST)

Update: Monday, Nov 27, 10 AM EST

I’ve said that this doesn’t sound like a direct problem for bloggers moderating comments, but could it mean legal liability if a blogger approved a comment that linked to a site trying to sell sex trafficking. Normally I don’t go to links from many comments out of fear of malware, and I don’t guarantee that commenter’s own embedded hyperlinks are “safe”.  Some comments are in foreign languages, and I generally don’t translate them (I usually insist that they use the normal alphabet).   Could this change?  I suppose however that issue could exist with child pornography now.  This concern applies even though I use a webhosting partner service (Akismet) to filter spam comments.